It has been too long—168 years—since the first Liberian Constitution was created. All of the framers of that Constitution, including S. Benedict, the Chair of the Convention, and the 10 others who signed it, were Christians. Yet they unanimously approved and adopted that document guaranteeing freedom of religion. These were not selfish men, possessed with religious bigotry (intolerance, prejudice, narrow-mindedness). Far from it, they were men of character, with a profound sense of justice, fair play, tolerance and deep faith in the Almighty, the God of justice.
Let us be reminded of what Charles Henry Huberich, who wrote the seminal work on Liberian History from 1822, said about the 1847 Constitution. It was, he wrote, drafted by Harvard law professor Simon Greanleaf, who based it on “the American Federal and State Constitutions, which in turn had their origin in the Magna Charta and the English Bill of Rights and the works of John Locke and [Charles-Louis] Montesquieu, a French lawyer. Locke and Montesquieu are considered among the founding fathers of Democracy. This form of government started in England in 1215 when King John was forced to sign the Magna Charta that paved the way for the abolition of the absolute monarchy and the introduction of parliamentary democracy in England.
Here now is what Article I, Section 3 of the 1847 Constitution said about freedom of worship: “All men have a natural and unalienable right to worship God, according to the dictates of their consciences, without obstruction or molestation from others: all persons demeaning themselves peaceably, and not obstructing others in their religious worship, are entitled to the protection of the law, in the free exercise of their own religion; and no sect of Christians shall have exclusive privileges or preference, over any other sect; but all shall be alike tolerated: and no religious test whatever shall be required as a qualification for civil office or the exercise of any civil right.”
This, then, proves that the Liberian Republic was founded on the basis of religious tolerance.
So what were the Muslim youth demonstrators talking about when they staged their protest in Gbarnga? True, there are some Liberians who say Liberia is and should remain a “Christian country,” but this is contrary to history and to both Constitutions.
Having said that, let us now turn to the Constitution of 1986. Just as with the 1847 Constitution, the framers of this new Constitution were mostly Christian. Their Chairman, Dr. Amos Sawyer, is a staunch Episcopalian, and so were J. Rudolph Grimes and Albert Porte, among others. There was at least one Muslim among the drafters, Bangalay Fofana.
Then there was the Constitutional Advisory Assembly, comprising people from all counties and territories, which reviewed and approved the Constitution. They were mostly Christian, but included two Muslims, Manyu Kamara and Paramount Chief Musa Kamara of Bong and Lofa counties, respectively.
Here is what Article 14 of the 1986 Constitution says about religion:
“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 freedoms of others. All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion.”
We know of no government official who has either thought or acted contrary to these principles. Last year during Ramadan, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited her next door Muslim neighbors in Fish Market, Monrovia, with rice and other gifts. She does this every year.
And one prominent Lebanese businessman told the Daily Observer yesterday he has noticed that “there are Muslim and Christian prayers at all state occasions. This,” he said, “is proof that Muslims really have no problem in Liberia.”