British Virgin Islands removes Rasta Law from its books

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands (AP) — Rastafarians can now legally visit this British Caribbean territory, following the removal of an executive order banning the religion’s adherents from entering, the government said Thursday.

The 23-year-old “Rasta Law” ordered immigration authorities to refuse entry to rastafarians and “hippies,” most commonly identified by their dreadlocks.

The Legislative Council struck the order from the books Wednesday, after a survey determined most islanders were in favor of its removal, Chief Minister Orlando Smith said.

“A lot has changed in the BVI and the world since that order was made,” and it is no longer possible to tell who is a Rasta or a hippie based on hairstyle, he said.

For years, the religious group and rights activists have criticized the order as unconstitutional in judging visitors based on their locks.

Though the order has not always been enforced, many Rastafarian visitors have complained of harassment at the airport.

Throughout the region Rastas say they are unjustly blamed for crime and looked down upon for their use of marijuana, which they believe brings them closer to God.

One of the religion’s tenets is staying close to nature, which can mean not combing or cutting one’s hair.

“It’s high time that this law was removed, said Bernard Skelton-Green, local representative for the Rastafarian group.

The religion emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s, with the descendants of slaves angry over colonial oppression of blacks and attempting to reconnect with their African roots.

Rastafarianism’s message of peaceful coexistence, marijuana use and African repatriation was popularized in the 1970s through reggae artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

An estimated 700,000 people practice the faith worldwide. Some sects believe their god is deceased Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

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