By Henry Kyambalesa
The establishment of the “House of Prayer for All Nations Tabernacle” by President Edgar Lungu using taxpayers’ money is not an indication that he loves and appreciates God. We all love and appreciate God, but it would not be acceptable for us to openly ‘steal’ the people’s resources for use in demonstrating how much we love and appreciate Him.
If he loves and appreciates God more than anyone else, he should have established the Tabernacle using his personal resources before his ascendance to the presidency or after his term or terms of office as Republican president.
Religious establishments are essentially non-governmental institutions and, therefore, I do not believe the President has the constitutional right or mandate to create any such institutions at taxpayer expense.
And the name of the Tabernacle implies that countries (or ‘Nations’) worldwide will be congregating in Zambia for prayers. Is that one of the President’s intentions for establishing the Tabernacle?
Separation of Religion and the State:
Freedom of worship, as well as the choice of one’s religion, is one of the basic individual rights which every government leader in Zambia needs to formally recognize and safeguard. However, there is an apparent need for our beloved country to introduce laws designed to keep religion out of political and public affairs, laws which should ban religious activities and programs which have the potential to indoctrinate credulous members of society.
Obviously, this does not imply that religious denominations in Zambia should not freely advocate their values, beliefs, and causes as interest groups. In a truly democratic society, any and all societal groups should have a right to seek to be heard in governmental decision-making, and to articulate their demands on the government and society’s other groups and institutions.
The rationale for pieces of legislation designed to keep religion out of politics, education, and other public spheres of society that wholly or partly fall under the auspices of the government is to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socioeconomic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our beloved country’s religious denominations.
Such legislation is particularly critical for our country, where efforts by the government to break the bondage of the majority of citizens to misery, want, and destitution is likely to be thwarted partly by violent clashes among religious sects.
We could, therefore, do well to pick a leaf from a 1947 United States Supreme Court dicta, which expanded the scope of the First Amendment clause pertaining to “The Establishment of Religion” to include the doctrine of “Separation of Church and State.”
According to the dictates of the doctrine, a local or the Federal government cannot do any of the following, which are cited in a book by J. M. Burns and J. W. Peltason:
(a) Set up a church, pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another;
(b) Force or influence a person to go or not to go to church, or force him or her to profess a belief or a disbelief in any religion;
(c) Levy taxes to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion; or
(d) Openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.
And, to reiterate, we need to consider prohibiting the formation of religious-based political parties. Also, we need to prohibit religious groups from making contemptuous remarks about the beliefs and/or practices of other religious denominations. If not prevented, there is no doubt that altercations among our country’s religious groups concerning the truthfulness of their different faiths will eventually trigger very serious conflicts in the country.
In all, I am confident that religious institutions in Zambia will continue to provide the moral and spiritual direction to our nation in an era that has been high-jacked by unprecedented violence and moral decay, and to articulate the people’s demands on the government for a more democratic, more peaceful, more prosperous, and more egalitarian society.
Zambia Should Be a “Secular State”:
What Zambia needs, therefore, is a secular state that genuinely recognizes and safeguards each and every individual’s freedom of worship and the freedom to choose one’s religion. At the same time, we should actively DISCOURAGE or PROSCRIBE the following in a deliberate effort to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socioeconomic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our country’s religious denominations:
(a) The use of public funds by a local or the national government to set up a Church, Mosque, a Synagogue, or any other house of worship, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;
(b) Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;
(c) The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party;
(d) The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government – that is, the legislature, the judiciary or the executive;
(e) Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government, except studies relating to world religions without delving into the content of their sacred books;
(f) Subjection of candidates for election or appointment to public office to a religious test expressly or otherwise requiring them to declare their religious affiliations;
(g) Desecration of any religious symbols or objects by any member or members of Zambian society;
(h) Religious sermons or statements by any individual or group of individuals belonging to any given religious grouping or denomination which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations; and
(i) Conducting of religious sermons or ceremonies involving ten or more people in non-religious public arenas without a police permit, or conducting such activities on public modes of transportation that are not chartered by groups involved.
Some of these safeguards would, of course, need Parliament to prescribe the nature or kinds of punishment that would be meted out to convicted violators.
With the foregoing kinds of safeguards, a government does not need to place any restrictions on the construction of Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, or any other houses of worship, or have restraints on the expansion of any religious denomination.
If we fail to enact pieces of legislation designed to protect government institutions and the political arena from the influences of religion, we could actually be sowing the seeds of deadly religion-based conflicts.
The Nature of a “Secular State”:
In the ensuing paragraphs, I wish to briefly discuss the nature of what is referred to as a “secular state,” much of which I have excerpted and adapted from Wikipedia.
Essentially, a “secular state” is a nation-state or a country that purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. It also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of the nature of their religious beliefs, and it does not have an official religion.
In other words, the term “secular state” refers to a nation-state or a country that honors individuals’ freedom of worship, prevents religion from interfering with governmental decision-making, and excludes it from the realms of governance and/or the exercise of political power.
And laws in such a nation-state or country protect each and every individual (including religious minorities) from discrimination on the basis of one’s religious affiliation.
Basically, a “secular state” is not an atheistic nation-state or country that officially denies the existence of God. In some “secular states” (such as Thailand and Turkey), there can be a dominant religion, while in others (such as India and Lebanon), there can be great religious diversity.
Some “secular states” may even have de facto official religions (such as Indonesia and Peru), where some government officials have to belong to certain religious denominations even though the country and its government does not officially support any religious denomination.
The author, Mr. Henry Kyambalesa, is a Zambian academician currently living in the City and County of Denver in the State of Colorado, USA. He is the Interim President of the Agenda for Change (AfC) Party.