5 February 2013

South Sudan Church Calls to Review Separation of Religion and the State

Juba — The church in South Sudan has called on the government to review the current policy and constitutional provision which stipulates the separation of the state from religion and introduce a better new approach.

In the resolutions passed on Sunday in Juba during a meeting called by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, Rev. Peter Gai Lual, with all the constitutional post-holders in Juba who are Presbyterians, the church criticized the policy which it said should not hold after the independence from the former Sudan.

The participants in the meeting included the Vice-President, ministers, deputy ministers, members of parliament and pastors.

The ruling SPLM called for a secular state during the war and that was provided for in the 2005 peace deal with Khartoum and consequently enshrined in the interim constitution of the country before and after the split in July 2011.

The church however argued that the idea of "separating the state from religion" was based on the fear that Khartoum wanted to make Islam the religion of the state as well as make Shariah law the basis for legislation in the whole country.

Now that South Sudan is an independent state from Khartoum, the church feels that the policy should be reviewed and the constitutional provision amended.

The resolutions acknowledge that "there is no state religion" but to "separate the state from religion" is not the best policy.

The Vice-President, Riek Machar, who is also member of the Presbyterian Church and attended the church meeting also shared the new idea and consented to the need for dialogue in order to review the policy.

Machar said the government through its relevant institutions including the constitutional review commission would dialogue with the church in general including representatives from other church denominations in South Sudan to look into the policy and come up with a better policy expression.

He further explained that the main concern of the SPLM-led government was to make sure that no religion shall be imposed on the people as the state religion, adding that this can however be addressed without necessarily separating the state from religion.

Hence, the expression that "there is no state religion" would address the concern, he said.

The general church in South Sudan is concerned that the government doesn't support its programs or even assist in rebuilding the church's infrastructures such as hospitals and schools which were destroyed during the war simply because the policy separates it from religion.

The country's Vice-President acknowledged the difficulty the policy presents when the government tries to assist activities of the religious groups.

Three months ago the government however facilitated the movement of hundreds of South Sudanese Muslim pilgrims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to visit the Islamic holy land.

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