By Orishaba Paul
In the recent past, tensions between the state and the church have been a regular phenomenon. This tension has been caused by the debates of whether or not the government should legislate the affairs of the church through its proposed religious and faith based policy that seeks to regulate religion.
In countries where this has been allowed, governments often intervene in the organization of religious communities and their doctrine. In such nations, the head of state is usually an imperial governor of the church. Try to imagine this, where the head of state has the leverage to appoint or depose bishops and other religious leaders. Circumstances such as this where the state has the powers to impose over the church these sort of regulations are simply another card from its deck of levity. Your thoughts must be closer to mine; about how religious freedoms and practice would cease to be enjoyed.
Constitutions usually monitor the relationship between religious and state authorities across the world; some states and governments choose to entirely detach themselves from church whereas others choose to establish a functioning relationship between the state and a particular religion or religions, or even grant religious laws or institutions a privileged place within the established legal–political system. Other states however, declare the secularity of the state or seek to protect their neutrality from any ecclesiastical affiliation. The latter seems to have been the place we once belonged to. It is now clear to everyone that the government of Uganda is more concerned about augmenting its influence into the affairs of the church which will indirectly muzzle religious freedoms.
The government should instead come to terms with this one fact that faith and religion are matters which lie solely between man and the deity they subscribe to. Man therefore owes no account to any one for his faith or worship. In his own words when related to the government and its proponents’ position on the religious policy, Thomas Jefferson said, “Legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions. I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State”.
I want to think that the framers of the Uganda constitution had this in mind and actually understood better what the words of Jefferson meant. Article 7 of the constitution of Uganda stipulates that Uganda shall not have a state religion. It goes ahead in article 2 (b) to say that a person is free to practice any religion and to belong to any religious organization. The existing laws therefore give you, me and any other ordinary Ugandan the right to enjoy our freedom of worship and the liberty to belong to any sect of faith. Maybe, I should add that we also have the right to worship the way we want to. This therefore means that no one, not even the state should decide or even have a say on how we choose to worship and where we choose to belong as we exercise this right.
The framers of our constitution foresaw such a time as this where the state would be tempted to attain an upperhand in the matters of faith and it is what we are witnessing today. The intention of the state is not actually to organize but to control religion and once this happens, we will start to see oppression especially to those that are not in compliance with the state.
Today, such freedom and protection from religious oppression are near-universally recognized principles of any democratic state like Uganda but with the current anomaly, Uganda is guaranteed to fall short of being regarded as democratic and free. This therefore means that there is no choice but to guarantee freedom of religious belief and practice. This historical recognition of religious freedom is an international norm that as a nation, we must uphold.
The existing debates on whether or not the government should regulate religion and faith organizations may not end soon though one thing is clear, that the state is on a very wrong side. Religious and faith organizations have self-regulatory structures consisting of sacred ministers or clerics ordained, anointed and approved of God to run the affairs of the church. Politically, religious bodies are reactionary and cannot be avenues through which secular propaganda is channelled.
One UPDF general once said that the issues of generals should be left to generals and in my opinion, he was right. For relevance, this statement is very necessary in today’s involvement of the state in concerns of the church. I strongly believe that the state should leave the issues of faith and religion to the church leaders who are more capable and well-equiped to handle their God-given mandate which effectively creates the needed wall of separation of the church from state. The legislators have this one obligation, which is creating a favorable environment for religious freedoms to thrive within the state.
The writer is a campus remnant and a National Christian Students’ Association (NCSA) member.