Separation Of State And Religion: ARTICLE 14 Of The Constitution vs. The Controversial 2006-2007 National Budget


By Gbe Sneh


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 29, 2006


The very reason for maintaining a separation between state and religion came to light in the recent controversial 2006/2007 Liberian National Budget. The Executive Branch included an appropriation for an Episcopalian College. When the budget landed in the House of Representatives, that body penciled in a line item for the Seventh Day Adventists. And on its final leg for approval by the Senate, this body added yet one more religion-based appropriation for Muslim schools. One wonders what the Evangelicals, Baptists, Catholics, and Welley Nagbe’s one-family congregation church, just to name a few of the churches left out of the budget, must be thinking.

In response to the favorable budgetary treatment received from state, this is what a Muslim Youth organization said, "We from the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia (NAMSAL) commend the members of the National Legislature for adjusting and passing a budget that is responsive to every segment of the Liberian society," What must the YMCA, particularly, a Baptist or Catholic wing, be thinking about this comment? “Yeah, right.” would be a thought. Would that then be in line with Peace and Reconciliation? Let us be ware..
The framers of various “western-styled” constitutions wisely recognized the individual’s choice of worship as a fundamental right. This act, by definition, acknowledges a diversity of churches; it closes the door to any hint of a “state religion”. As much as the state would like to be involved with what the people want, if there is any one thing it does not want to ‘touch with a ten-foot pole’, it is religion. In the case of Liberia, ARTICLE 14 was inserted into the Constitution to ensure that.

Look at the state’s dilemma when it comes to religion. Some of the people, in their spiritual practices, want to wear the best of clothes, in a pageantry of colors, fine shoes included, while others just want plain white or blazing red linen outfits, not even slippers on their feet; some shave their heads and faces, while others don’t want a blade to touch their chin; some prefer to sing plus dance in worship, while others simply sing minus the cha-cha-cha; some want a coffin-less interment, a full contact with the earth is their wish, while others don’t want their best final suits or bridal wares soiled; in martyrdom, some want canonization on earth plus a seat at the Right Hand Of The Father in heaven, while others crave a princely welcome in the yonder with a reward of seventy-two virgins in wait as wives. Don’t ask me what the women among the latter get, for I just don’t know. The state, with full cognizance of this mass conflicting preferences, decided, “I’m Staying Out Of This.” Who would blame the state?

To make national budget appropriations for any religion-based entity, for whatever reason, is to circumvent the Constitution. ARTICLE 14 of the Constitution states in part, “no religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike…”

Inclusion of what amounts to personal whims or interests in the national budget will set a haunting precedent. All churches were devastated during the wars. All churches are cash strapped. All churches would want to submit help requests to GOL. What would be GOL’s criteria for sifting through numerous requests in order to prioritize and honor them? King Solomon ‘self’ would not want to have to handle that one! There is absolutely no conceivably equitable way to do it. Such is the implicit caveat of ARTICLE 14 of the Constitution. We must be ware.

The state’s decision, through ARTICLE 14 of the Constitution, to separate its affairs from religion, is not an atheistic position, as it may be seen by some. It is simply a wise avoidance of the dangers posed by mixing the two. The dangers of mixing state with church are all around us. It is not every person in society that wants to be ruled by the dictates of the Bible or Koran or some “mian”. As it is, we are aware of the chaos that springs forth from divergent interpretations of verses in these “holy books”. These dangers become even more pronounced when society is handicapped by massive illiteracy, giving rise to “prophets” and “shepherds” that move in to indoctrinate mass followers. Constitutions get treated as “man-made” and hence supplanted by the “holy books”. Theocracies evolve. Crusades and Lower Jihads loom. The results have yielded intolerance, repression and even fatal consequences for all. We must be ware.

The state may have good intensions to support education, including those at private schools run by various religious denominations, but to do so in contravention of the Constitution is ill-advised, blatantly illegal. ARTICLE 14, let’s all read and understand why it was constituted. In The New Liberia, we want to get it right. Of this, we must be ware.

© 2006 by The Perspective

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