By Gbe Sneh
It is currently the front running global issue – Separating politics from religion. We have the ISIS CRISIS in the Middle East, the Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, on the African Continent, and the Right-Wing Congress of the United States. Bringing religion into governance makes no sense, for very obvious reasons. The simplest reason is found in this little rant, ‘Do we all go to church, let alone the SAME one’? No! Are we ALL citizens of Liberia? Yes! Then, we cannot thwart the Constitution by discarding “Separation of Church and State”, by declaring a “Christian Nation”. One need not be a lawyer to see that it would be unconstitutional. And what is the Judiciary’s response to this? Shhhhhhhh, quiet!
For the sake of those who really don’t see the dangers in mixing religion with politics, we have to do this. Go as far back as you wish, humankind has always frowned on forced indoctrination; wars were fought over this; lives have been wasted over this; empires were brought down over this. And recently the State of Indiana, US, tried to ignore this history by passing a so-called “Religious Freedom Act”; the backlash is history!
I do want to get on record here that the prevailing drive in the backlash in Indiana is Big Business, and granted that the law’s drag on business is a genuine reason against it, the overriding reason – “Separation of Church and State” – has not been emphasized, practically ignored. This is 2015, and we are still poking at this venerable statute. No generation shall ever overturn “Separation of Church and State”!
Some people are arrogantly and, or ignorantly proposing that Liberia become a “Christian Nation”. Really! Someone, please tell us when the last “Christian Nation” was established in the world? It would be a backward move, and would make Liberia a laughing stalk of the modern world. And above all else, it is a very dangerous move! We are calling on President Sirleaf and the Congress to reject this proposal and, take to the country side to explain to the people the reason why.
Lest one would argue that becoming a “Christian Nation” is the will of a majority of the Liberian people, know that the CONSTITUTION is very steadfast and blunt about “Separation of Church and State”, and makes no mention of any “majority”! The dangerous mistake waiting to happen must be put down. We must all kick back against it. But, I have my fears and doubt, based on past Liberian Government practices. This government once had a budget line item specifically to fund a Muslim program. The question was asked then, “What about the Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Alleluia, or even the Sumu Man’s practice?” We did not hear “fuen”, and now this! The convergence of members of the Muslim Community on the Gbarnga Town Hall Meeting, and the ongoing demonstrations of Muslim sympathizers around the country to express their objection is patriotic and laudable. All Liberians of goodwill should stand in solidarity with this group, not in solidarity along religious lines, but strictly on the basis of common sense, to protest this divisive act that has the propensity to derail all gains made in our post war era.
Madame President, this thing should not make it to a REFERRENDUM; it does not make sense; it divides and is a powder ked waiting to explode. If you used your “Bully Pulpit” to squash this under your watch, history will hail you, and posterity will enshrine you! Please, let’s not tamper with the fragile peace; strike this blemish out of the Constitutional Committee Report that has some very good points, such as the cutting of Congressional Term Limits that the people asked for. But, it did not touch HIGH SALARIES. Maybe Senator Taylor’s group will handle that for the people. That’s another story.
For crying out so loud, it is not like Christians are all on the same page! Just pay a Sunday visit to the “other church”, and you’ll hear yours get shredded. Some churches go barefooted; some do uniforms (white, usually, but have seen red); some carry a tea kettle for washing/cleansing; some make you fast forty days and forty nights; some have “idols”; some use flagellation – they inflict punishment on themselves in contrition and supplication. Just try to tell Cousin Jrikan to skip lunch! Religion is a good thing, but a spiritual thing, a personal thing, and therefore should have no place in governance.
There is an inherent fear when the “Christians” declare a “Christian Nation”; they have nightmares of the dreaded Sharia Laws of an Islamic State. In other words, “Christians” prefer to be governed by the “other laws”, in essence, Christianizing their constitutions. What an irony, given that the constitution has in it the “separation of church and state”. So, what would it be? Would lawyers now have the Holy Bible, in addition to the Constitution to work with? It is truly a warped feeling, to think about it.
The reason for a “separation of church and state” should be evident to any prudent human being. It forestalls a divisive society, prevents the preference of one religion over another, and it avoids the “legislation of morality”. Ignoring this common sense law has a propensity to force others against their will, solely on religious grounds. All citizens do not go to church! All citizens do not go to the same church! And, even within the same church, the congregants don’t all interpret the “word” the same way!
Government’s role is purely contractual as it relates to the governed. Like a corporation, it is instituted by a group of people willing to be bound by its decided rules, a constitution. People decide that their common needs/shared interests, physical needs, can be best fulfilled through collective means. It is ironic that some, today, shun collective efforts, the very pillars in the formation of governance. One thing the people did not give up is individuality, in which resides a protected spirituality from which a religious affiliation may spring. Religion, therefore, was never intended to be a part of governance.
Along the way in this saga, in this modern era, some have unfortunately coined expressions as, “Moral Majority”; they have enacted laws such as “Defense of Marriage” Act (RIP, DOMA!). I will put it bluntly, the word “majority” is strictly a political/governance term; “morality”, on the other hand, is absolutely spiritual. Why would we even splice them in the same expression to come up with an arrogant and senseless expression such as “Moral Majority”?
So, where is the proof for the bold assertion in the forgoing paragraph? It is inconceivable that man would want someone, anyone, monitoring his sexuality; would want no one telling him how many women he can marry; would want no one telling him how to spend his Sunday mornings; no one telling him that he must be circumcised! No, I really don’t think so; man did not give these up in the governance agreement. Hence, some wise men found it absolutely necessary to keep religion and politics separate. Let’s reward them by just executing, in good faith what they’ve given us.
And about a referendum, if we are really looking to call a sensible one in the 2017 Elections, how about, “Congressional Salaries and Benefits are to be brought down to match the living standards of the Liberian People.” How many signatures does it require to put that on the ballot, anyway? It may be necessary to really take that issue up directly with the people, by quantifying the concern with loads of signatures to be delivered on the steps of the Congress of The Republic of Liberia.
If we are to build a sound and all inclusive government, we MUST, at all costs, respect the well-defined line we have enshrined in the Constitution, “The Separation of Church and State”. Detractors may throw even the kitchen sink at this; it shall still stand!