Let me firstly congratulate the CRC for the tedious job they have performed and also thank the President for the commitment to operationalize some of her visions for this country. Managing a people’s aspirations after this civil war can be challenging. So I thank them for the courage to even start.
The issues of concern that upon first glance are meant to criticize what was done as more of the process at which one derives at the “59,000” public responses. The responses seem to transmit the issues of subjectivity rather than objectivity, depending on how the questions were framed. For example if one went to Karmatahun, Kanikloju, Rice Bagtown or Tukloh and asked: Do you want our country to have two moneys, and without giving an explanation why these “two money” co-exited, there would be no room for internalization and the obvious response will be NO. Or if somebody asked a group of people whose representation is imbalanced on the onset, the answers one would get would reflect the biases of the one drafting the questions. For example, if one asks, would you like for anybody to be citizen of two countries? The obvious answer from a vote, not taken thru secret ballot to reflect a level of objectivity, would reflect the subjective nature of an open vote and the answer would reflect the subjective nature of the process.
These might not have been the case. I hope not. I am troubled by the tensions recently introduced by some of the issues, for since the declaration of Independence, our diverse religions have co-existed mostly peacefully without some of the issues raised. At this time I have chosen to comment on the religious bruhaha.
In my many years of life in Liberia I have not experienced the spirit of religious intolerance that is beginning to creep in our religious diction and debates. The jitters it sent thru my being as it exploded in our recently concluded Constitutional review exercise if not soberly handled thru sincere prayers could have cascading effects on this country much more devastating than the decay we suffered in our civil conflict.
While I will defend the rights of those who are promoting a “preferred religion” for our country, I equally support the right of those who object to it against the reliance on article 14 of our Constitution. Really what harm does it do to have our diversity of religious beliefs to co-exist? Does it solve our many pressing issues, including our basic survival needs and stability? Let us slow down to 35 miles an hour as it seems we are moving at 100 miles on a treacherous road.
It suggests a moral panic that appears to be fed by paranoia of a future that we seem not to be able to predict on any credible experience in Liberia, except for those we read about in distant lands. As some historians perceive it, the surrounding controversies appear to be fueled by arguments that generate social tensions in which agreements may be difficult simply because objective discussions of the central core issues are taboo. However we must all do our duties under yoke of tolerance and civility, to contain a potentially explosive situation whose occurrence is not necessarily of a commanding priority.
Listening to the rancorous debates over the electronic media encouraged me to do some reflection as to the root cause of the perceptions that seem to generate energy of inequity of religious practices or the notion that certain religious groups are preferred by our Universal maker than others thus rendering them inferior or unacceptable. I thought the very Universal Deity we all acclaim to worship has commanded us to LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF AND IF YOU DO THIS IT IS FOR HIS GLORIFICATION.
My people can we slow down to 40 miles an hour in our effort to reflect on the gravity of a phenomenon we might not truly understand? The brouhaha of this seemingly religious intolerance raises a number of questions: For those of us who promote the creation of a Christian state, I am wondering and asking; Are we “the preferred religion” or the one and only population our Universal God has selected to serve his wishes, and he does not speak to others he created?
And following the logical uneasiness of President Obama when he asked the question at his Annual National Prayer Breakfast in early 2015, whether God only cares about the “preferred” and exclusivity for his INFINITE LOVE AND CARE; is this love and mercy only exclusive to them or somehow are they the only ones in possession of the truth? In fact this National Prayer Breakfast, observed for over 63 years, had brought together some of the renowned and credible leaders of various faiths including his holiness the Dalai Lama which provides the unique opportunity to reflect on the issues they all share as children of the one Universal God who loves all of his creation, and persistently reminds us that the greatest deed a human can perform is: Love thy fellow man as thy self.
So aren’t we practicing beliefs contradictory to the directives of our universal God when we want to bombard others with intolerance? Or is it simply that because God sent his beloved Son to rescue mankind we would try to distort another religion for our own selfish purposes?
Pope Francis of the Catholic denomination questions a long standing Catholic principle that I struggled with in apologetics class, which insisted that if you are not a catholic you would not be saved by asking the question: so what has happened to those other millions of people who are not Catholics? God does not talk to them? It beats the imagination. Or are we just confused?
I don’t hear a loud voice coming from the traditional religious sects: the Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans on the issues that could drive a cleavage between our Government and religion, even though the crafters of our Constitution highlighted the empirical necessity of separation of Church and state, giving to God the things that are for God and to Caesar the things that are for Caesar.
Let us see what has now become the best practice or contemporary attitude of many Governments worldwide to create the space to internalize our competing quests:
Starting with the United States, which is the home base of many Christian Churches in Liberia, we read about the constitutional and statutory laws of the United States which emphatically do not have room to create a state religion, a state church or support organized religion or support organized church or links state functions with functions of any organized church or religion. The United States even went further recently to state that “no organized Christian religion or no organized Christian church is so divinely godly to deserve a free land, free state dollars with special preference over any other, emphasizing the distinction between their faith and their Governments…does not sponsor a religion nor does it pressurize anyone to practice a particular faith.’’
My research has also revealed that “the Constitution of some other countries of the Western World forbid the State from entertaining certain acts of religious intolerance or preference within its own borders. Let us look at a few: Article 4 of the Basic Law of Germany; Article 44.2.1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland; Article 40 of the Estonian Constitution; Article 24 of the Constitution of Turkey; Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China; Article 3 Section 5 of the Constitution of the Philippines. There are other states whilst not having constitutional provisions directly related to religion, contain provisions forbidding discrimination, for example the French Constitution, Article 1; Article 15 of the Canadian Chapter of Rights and Freedoms; Article 40 of the Egyptian Constitution.
The United Nations emphasizes the right to free expression of religion in articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Liberia is a signatory to it. Article 2 forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. The United States again passed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act, creating the Commission on International Religious Freedom and “makes it binding for the United States to take action against countries found to violate the religious freedom outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Let us come home to Liberia. Article 14 of our most recent constitution provides that “all persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedom of others.” It goes further to say “All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others…shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no said religion.”
So my brothers and sisters let us fear the Lord as all the religions are recognized by our Universal Creator. The problem is the path different sects take to reach the Universal Creator. The Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, while the Muslims believe he is just a prophet like their own Mohammed. But again I go back to President Obama, who again cautions all of us “to avoid the notion of letting our government get between us and our faiths or try to dictate our faiths or elevate one faith over the other.”
I agree with President Obama and other principled voices of our faiths who have added their voices to the adoption of the one law that seems to bind all of our faiths: “As people who have a sense of ethics and morality-that golden rule for us to treat one another as we wish to be treated.” For as we do this to one of us we are doing it to our God, so says our Maker. It is said that the Torah preaches “love thy neighbor as thyself”; In Islam a reading states “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” and the Gospel of the Holy Bible crowns it by saying “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Let us reflect on that very moving example of our fellow man: Dr. Brantly did it for the love of his fellow man in Liberia when he sacrificed to care for our sick during the frightening Ebola pandemic. Let us cultivate the things that united us rather than seek for the things that may divide us.
I was a little shaken when I did not notice the delegates fighting to ensure that we take control of our destiny, ensure that we mandate a national identification process for our nationals, ensure that we empower teachers at our educational institutions not to negatively exploit our children but train them adequately to expose their hidden talents, or mandate the responsible government agencies to facilitate the timely and effective institutionalization of the “local Content law,” among others. Don’t get me wrong, I think the CRC did a good job, but we are still at the starting gate. Upon further reflection, did the CRC dollarize all of the changes suggested thus far? Or did the CRC in their wisdom try to narrow down the 59,000 responses and explain the thinking behind some of their concerns? While our people are not ignorant, it helps sometimes when we clarify some sticking issues of national concern that appear to need immediate rectification just by listening to the talk shows and when further explained create space for internalization and take a different cloak.
So let me, in my closing appeal join our President who has asked all Liberians to exhibit love and tolerance; and ask our dear God to always make us an instrument of sincere love and peace. Till we revert to God to help us with our perceived insurmountable problems and slow down to 35 miles an hour, reflect soberly on why the crafters of our constitution embedded a number of issues that may not stand the test of present political environment, I, like Phillip Wesseh “rest my case.”
Author’s Note: I am Cletus Segbe Wotorson of GrandCess, Grand Kru County. I have served in the Liberian Government for a period of 62 years, dating from the Tubman regime thru to the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Government. I am a Christian and conduct my religion as a practicing and devout Catholic and a member of the Knights of St. John International.