By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Few days ago in the wake of the ongoing Constitution Conference in Gbarnga, Bong Country, I wrote an article, entitled:” So Liberia Should Be A “Christian Country?” in which I vehemently opposed calls by some individuals and groups to make this country a Christian nation. The issue of making Liberia or that Liberia should return to a Christian Nation is one of many issues gathered by the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) of former Chief Justice, Her Honor, Gloria Musu-Scott during a year of consultations through the length and breadth of this country.
Among other things, the CRC has a mandate to review Liberia’s Constitution of 1986 through wide-spread public participation and to develop proposals from inputs (views, suggestions and recommendations) generated from public interactions and discussions as the basis for constitutional amendments. It was based on this mandate that it embarked on a nationwide consultations and sectoral meetings which started about a year ago, in the 73 electoral districts of the country and also in some parts of the Diaspora-Ghana and the United States of America.
As was reported, in its preliminary summary on views gathered during the year-long consultations, which has been catalogued in 25 counts, the CRC said the people want a change in the tenures of the president, legislators and that they want the chief justice, superintendents, commissioners, mayors and chiefs should be elected and not appointed by the President and that the Vice President should not preside over the senate. Among other things, the citizens want dual currency abolished and that dual citizens should not be encouraged.
Of all of these issues, I take interest in the issue of making this country a Christian nation because of the consequences of such in this country at this time. Retrospectively, prior to setting up the CRC and the subsequent holding of the consultations because from time to time there have been the issues that “Liberia was founded On Christian Principles” or that “Liberia is a Christian nation, therefore, Christianity should be the official religion, contrary to the Liberian Constitution of 1847 and the amended one in 1986.
Today, I wish to review this argument of Liberia being a “Christian nation” or founded on Christian principle from a legal perspective, because as it is said, “What is not done legally is not done at all.” And so with this, that is the “reliance” (supporting evidence, facts or law) that this country was a Christian nation and should therefore “return” to that status quo ante?
As I said in my previous article this week on the matter, sometimes I agree with those who share this belief that Liberia was founded on “Christian Principles” have all grounds to hold such a belief, considering the founding political leaders or fathers of this land, and more so when the Declaration of Independence was signed in the old edifice of the Providence Baptist Church, still on Broad Street.
But the very founding fathers, who predominantly were Christians, never inscribed or incorporated in the first of that country that Liberia is a Christian nations or country. This clearly suggests that they preferred a secular state to that of a one-religion state. This is why in the very first Constitution of 1847 they said, “ All men have a natural and inalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, without obstruction or molestation from others: all persons demeaning themselves peaceably, and not obstructing others in their religious worship, are entitled to the protection of law, in the free exercise of their own religion; and no sect of Christians shall have exclusive privileges or preference, over any other sect; but all shall be alike tolerated: and no religious test whatever shall be required as a qualification for civil office, or the exercise of any civil right.
Similarly, the amended Article 14 of the 1986 Constitution during the regime of the late Samuel K. Doe, linguistically, only rephrased this provision of the issue of religion, as stipulated in the 1847 Constitution, to say, “All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
It went on: “All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion.
These constitutional provisions are so clear and not ambiguous to confuse anyone in interpreting them. They simply mean that Liberia is a secular state, and that one religion should not be given preferential treatment than others or that others should not be deprived of practising their religious beliefs, once they do not come in conflict with the laws.
Judging from these two, many of those who hold this belief have been doing so erroneously because there is nowhere in the former constitution, which should be their reliance did it speak of a one-religion state. Even the founding fathers by being Christians they made it emphatically clear in that Organic Law that , “no sect of Christians shall have exclusive privileges or preference, over any other sect; but all shall be alike tolerated: and no religious test whatever shall be required as a qualification for civil office, or the exercise of any civil right.”
We should know that the founding fathers decided not to include this in the constitution because of the benefits a secular state would accrue. Why is it that now some of us want to dogmatically make Liberia a Christian nation? Are we suggesting that our founding fathers acted wrongly by not institutionalizing this? Or is there anything wrong with Christians and Muslims co-existence?
Once more, as Liberians to brainstorm on this and others, it is my fervent hope that we should abandon such a call so that this country remains a secular state. Again, is there any problem with the present state of religious affairs? I say a BIG NO! Also, is there anything wrong with Christians and Muslims co-existing, as we have today? Again, I say a BIG NO!
I still maintain that what we need is to continue to encourage and promote the present state of religious tolerance among people of different religious backgrounds, especially Muslims and Christians in the country. As it is often said, laws should not be discriminatory. We cannot produce or amend a constitution that will discriminate at this time, by giving Christians preferential treatment over others.
Hence, in our desire to make amendments in the 1986 Constitution, which I consciously support, as there is always a need to review the Constitution because of prevailing situation or changing times or trend; let Article 14 remain undisturbed, or to say it the other way, ‘let sleeping dog lies,” as a secular state, is necessary for the good of the society. To reiterate, “laws are not static, but dynamic,” however; in whatever change, the interest of the society must reign supreme. This is why I am against a single-state religion.
A hint to the wise is sufficient, as “Liberia was never a Christian Nation” and should never be a Christian Nation. I Rest My Case.