New Democrat (Monrovia)

Liberia: Christian State Petition Breeds Needless Disquiet

editorial

After the national legislature received petitions from some Christians and Muslims to act on highly sensitive religious matters, all eyes are now turned on our lawmakers to exhibit prudence that will prevent Liberia from being discussed and characterized according to belief systems and practices sacred to Christians or Muslims.

The Christian group is seeking for Liberia to become a Christian State, which of course, will involve amendment of the constitution, while Muslims want the legislature to pass an act granting them a holiday according to their religious calendar.

The Muslims, who prefer Liberia to remain a circular state under the current constitution, argue that if the country is to be declared a Christian State as petitioned by some Christian groups last week, then the legislature should declare a Muslim holiday national for them.

Many Liberians who attend church are blinded by the cliché "Liberia was founded on Christian principles" which they are unprepared to concisely explain in historical perspectives.

Freed slaves Christianized in captivity, who arrived here in early 20th century after being transported by the philanthropist American Colonization Society, did almost everything in adherence to their beliefs but with recognition and respect for religious practices of indigenes they met here.

Though they named the island, which Gabriel Johnson Tucker Bridge spans, as Providence Island (though called Dozoa by indigenes) and held all major meetings concerning independence in the First Providence Church where the Independence Declaration was signed on 26 July 1847, the settlers did recognize and respect the religious rights of the indigenes who inhabited the swathe of land from present-day Monrovia to Bopolu and practiced Islam and traditional African religions.

The 1986 Constitution declared Liberia as a circular state saying, "

All persons, irrespective of ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin or political opinion, are entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution."

Nevertheless, this declaration that supposedly considers Liberia to be multi-religious, the inclination has often been a preference of Christianity to other religions at official government functions including induction ceremonies where the Holy Bible is used.

But there has been an ominous silence by the Catholic Church and Protestant churches including Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans since a group comprising mainly Evangelicals and Pentecostals petitioned the legislature last week for a Christian State.

Christians and Muslims here have not been fanatical in practicing their religions but we express fears about the sudden mushrooming of redemptive, prosperity and 'healing' churches with females forming majority of their congregations.

When Bishop Bennie D. Warner served as vice president and president of the Senate, he had the audacity to query a senator from Grand Gedeh County for remaining seated with eyes open in session when the chaplain offered prayers of invocation.

The senator sternly answered: "Liberia guarantees freedom of religion. I could even prostate while the senate is in prayers. That could be the way of practicing my religious freedom."

But that response and an earlier witty correction in a senate correspondence to the Executive later cost that senator his impeachment. But Liberia was under the first Constitution.

Cognizant that religion is not forced upon individuals, but a belief system that flows from one's volition, the constitution satisfied all believers to practice without constraints. Why should some group plea semi theocracy that became obsolete centuries ago?

We believe that, due to this constitutional provision, forms for employment and other official use do not require mention of religious affiliation just as statistics on Christians, Moslems and others including traditional African religions are not pronounced in the country.

One country known to be void of religious fanaticism is Senegal where Muslims form 99 percent of the population, while the rest are Catholics and others.

Notwithstanding, the population overwhelmingly agreed in a decree signed by founding president Leopold Sedar Senghor which declares all holidays for both Muslim and Christian national.

In fact, members of both religions greeted Pope John Paul II during his Africa visit that included Dakar.

We believe the petition by some Christians seeking amendment in the Constitution for Liberia to change from secular to Christian State, prompted Muslims in the country to officially press for a holiday, fearing their religion could be left on the peripheral.

We urge the legislature not to tolerate the Christian State petition, which only breeds needless disquiet.

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