‘Constitutional Review Deserves Caution’

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Amid the constitutional review process in which there is controversy about a proposition to legislate Liberia a Christian state, USAID Deputy Consul General, Atty. William Young, said a nation that is going through a constitutional review process needs to realize that there is need for caution in the exercise.

Addressing students of the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute, who are expected to be sworn in as associate magistrates of the Liberian Judiciary, Young said reforming fundamental documents like the Constitution, where changes are made, “you would also be creating loopholes.”

He did not mention anything about the proposition to declare Liberia a ‘Christian state’ or any of the other 24 propositions adopted for review at the recent Gbarnga conference.

However, majority of the participants at the constitutional conference charged with reviewing the country’s 1986 Constitution backed a proposition to declare Liberia a ‘Christian state’. The proposition early on caused serious discord within the Liberia Inter-religious Council, which comprises Liberia’s Christian and Islamic leaders. In general, Muslims and some Christians protested the idea, describing it as an attempt to marginalize a religious group.

The Muslims also raised alarm to demand that the country’s current secular status remain unchanged. Some Christian leaders, however, have argued that they have the backing of a ‘majority’ and that changing Liberia’s secular orientation would be an exercise in democracy, reflecting the people’s will for a Christian state.

“If you are making changes in your constitution, you might be creating holes in a process that had existed for years,” Attorney Young indicated, “and those holes, if they are not [plugged] could become wider and wider. That could erode the rule of law.”

According to him, a constitution review is a disciplined process and as such, “when you are working on the documents, you have to be transparent and take serious consideration into the views of everybody, including minority groups.”

“Reforming a constitution, there is some level of danger when you are discussing the issue of fundamental rights; how you are going to include everybody’s views, and considering the opinion of the people, should be your major priority,” he told them.

He said the constitution is the backbone of any free society and it should recognize that the power of the government is to directly represent and do the work of the people.

Atty. Young told the students that as magistrates, they would encounter serious constitutional and personal challenges.

“But with your training and the confidence in the rule of law that is the backbone of the constitution, you are going to make those difficult decisions ahead of you,” he admonished.

He said he was impressed with the work of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) that took into consideration the broad range of comments, statements, questions and opinions from Liberians, including the participation of the Traditional Council and women’s groups, as opposed to his country’s constitutional process in the 1700s, where women did not play any significant role in the process.

“The CRC head was a woman, which emphasizes the tremendous input of the women,” he said in closing.

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