By Alex Redd, Th.D
There is a popular saying that religion has no place in public schools or any other public sphere. This idea is propagated under the guise of “the separation of church and state.” This false notion has influenced Liberian state education, and it has subjected itself to purge religious literacy out of public school learning curriculum.
The state-run public school system in Liberia is grooming the next generation of young people with an educational policy that prohibits reference to God. The Ministry of Education sanctions the use of academic curriculum to teach religious lessons in public schools and, doing so, may negatively impact the spiritual life and worldview of future generations. Why so?
Mr. George Werner, a former education minister who oversaw the elimination of religious lessons in public school curriculum, says that public school curriculum is already crowded with primary secular subjects, so there’s no need to add religious subject.
Moreover, he characterizes everyone as religious by nature. When pressed particularly about teaching of the Bible in public schools as a way to develop an inbuilt moral character of life and worldview for future generation, Mr. Werner casts such responsibility on parents who should send their children to Sunday school of a church.
Mr. Werner affirms his belief in the Judeo-Christian God as enliven in the Bible, but he upholds the prominence of traditional African religion, an original belief system held by Liberian natives before arrival of pilgrims and their influential Christian values and principles to found Liberia as a nation-state.
Prior to Mr. Werner’s interview, a present senior administrator at the education ministry, who did not want to be identified because of sensitivity of this matter, emphasized that the issue of teaching the Bible or any other religious lessons is something that state administrators crafted and sanctioned in a public policy since 2011.
The administrator continued: “We want to keep the Bible, Koran, and other religious literatures and teachings out of public schools, because we want to be neutral in the fight over preference of religious literature in public education. We also want to comply with the constitutional meaning of separation of state and religion.”
The response begs the question, is it possible to have a ”neutral” education of life and worldview? Certainly, I do not believe so; and therein lies the problem with Liberian state-run public learning institutions. How do we exalt our nation in God’s righteousness without allowing our children to learn and gain knowledge of the character of God (Proverb 14:34)?
The paradigm of a “neutral” education of life and worldview is impossible, and it undermines the fundamental moral fabric and character of Liberia. Of course, there’s a constitutional basis that upholds supremacy of God over both the ecclesiastical institute (church) and civil magistrate (government).
The Constitutional Argument
The whole debate tends to focus on Article Fourteen (14) of the Liberian Constitution that highlights two distinct dimensions: the first dimension is “no religious denomination or sect shall have exclusive privilege or preference over any other….” The second dimension is that the “Republic shall establish no state religion.” Hence, Article Fourteen (14) continues, this is “consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state.”
The lingering questions therefore are: How do we dissect this provision, historically, of a nation that was founded primarily on the principle of free exercise of religion? What were the framers of the constitution thinking? Were the framers disallowing or banishing the use of religious reference to God in the public square or state institutions and other matters? A resounding NO!
In fact, the framers declared in the Preamble of the Constitution that the Republic of Liberia is inherently reliant on the divine providence, grace and guidance of God for its existence and survival as a nation-state. Therefore, the Liberian state first owes its loyalty and accountability to the sovereign authority of God – the Creator of heaven and earth. Certain historical parallel emerges with respect to Article Fourteen (14) of the Liberian Constitution, and an ongoing American political debate concerning separation of church and state.
The Secularist Mindset
Increasingly, secularists in our society today have interpreted the idea of “separation of church and state” to mean that the state is now autonomous, and God, himself, is banned from the public square and, particularly, from the institution of public learning. What has happened in our day is a blatant shift that has taken place whereby it’s not only the “separation of church and state,” but the notion that the state is separate from God, and that the state makes no reference to God in public education.
And, any reference to God in public education is seen as violation of Article Fourteen (14) of the Liberian Constitution. Although the state still tolerates the practice of religion – no one goes to jail for reading the Bible or praying at home – however, toleration in many ways is increasingly being limited to a very narrow theater of operation, namely the church. Think about these disturbing patterns for a moment.
The Christian Perspective
The meaning of the phrase – “separation of religion and state” or “no establishment of a particular state religion” illustrates the idea that the church is not the state, and the state is not the church. These two institutions co-exist and have distinct spheres and functionalities. For example, it is the state right and authority to levy taxes, raise a standing army, bear the sword, create an atmosphere of security, demonstrate upright adherence and enforcement of state law and so on.
Likewise, it’s the prerogative and authority of the church to preach the Gospel, administer the holy sacraments, provide spiritual guidance and scriptural moral consciousness, and so forth. Nevertheless, these two institutions are under the sovereign authority of God. In the context of their distinct functions, we can argue about whether Liberia was established in July 1847 as a Christian nation. There’s no doubt that the pilgrims who came were distinctively Christians, but there’s an ongoing debate about the religious status or convictions expressed in the declaration of independence and the constitution. One thing is clear.
The constitutional framers were professed THEISTS (believers in God). So, the agreement regarding “separation of state and religion” was the assumption that both institutions were under God; that God was the ONE who instituted the church in the first place and that Christ Jesus is the ruler over his church, and it’s the same God who instituted and ordained the civil government (Romans 13). Thus, all governments are accountable to the Creator who endowed the citizens of the state with certain inalienable rights, and all governments are answerable and accountable ultimately to the supreme governor of heaven and earth-even God.
The indication that the “Republic shall establish no state religion” does not mean the state is autonomous, and the state would have no reference to God in public educational curriculum. The original idea of the constitutional article was that no particular religious denomination or sect would enjoy the peculiar support and subsidy of the government. However, this does not mean the government was free to rule without reference to God. That’s why we have the words “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we trust “ on our legal tender as well as the presence of a Chaplain in our national legislature; and the use of public prayer.
God Deserves Honor and Glory
If God exists, then certainly He is the Creator of heaven, earth and all its inhabitants (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:35; Psalm 24:1; Psalm 89:11). The extent of His activity and the extent of His authority as well as the extent of His government is certainly not limited to the church. A god who has sovereignty only over one aspect of society or civilization is no God at all. If God is God, and if he is the Creator of all things, then His sovereign authority extends to all spheres of human livelihood. So, why should secular mindset decide the future life of our children in public learning?
To attempt to teach people the whole substance of knowledge without reference to God is making extremely a powerful statement about God. It is fundamentally committing to a worldview that is ATHEISTIC (which incorporates everything outside of church, state and God). The Liberian public education system is not only secular but, apparently, atheistic. This is not to mean there’s a militaristic agenda to deny the existence of God. But, the caveat is this: a worldview that does not affirm the existence of God or God’s sovereign authority is ATHEISTIC in its orientation.
The Cultural Crisis
Thus, the crisis we have in our culture with public education is disallowing specific reference to God or orientation to God in the scope of knowledge in various disciplines. If God is out of bounds, considering language arts, history, physics, how we understand nature, and how we understand human life and human values, then what we are talking about is the elimination of God from our lives and worldview. Everyone has a theory of life. We seek to interpret the world in which we live and seek to understand the meaning and significance of our lives, and seek to order our behavior according to some standard, norm or value system. And, doing so is a grid through which we perceive and interpret all reality.
If my view of life and worldview include the reality of God, then my life and worldview is THEISTIC or THEOCENTRIC; that the existence of God and authority of God has pervasive importance to everything that I understand. Conversely, however, if God is exiled or banished from this grid of life and worldview, and if I learn what I learn without reference to God, His existence and authority, then the grid by which I understand my life, values, behavior, and everything else is ATHEISTIC.
This atrocious reality is a danger that compels me to encourage all fellow brothers and sisters of the faith to ascribe to an educational policy that involves the attributes, character, and absolute truths of God. This is crucial because it is the fundamental Christian belief that the dignity of all humankind is derived from God. Thus, I strongly disagree with policy administrators at the Ministry of Education in Liberia this way: it is impossible to have a “neutral” life and worldview.
It is impossible to have a “neutral” philosophy of education. Every education has a perspective, a fundamental premise of life and worldview – and the beginning of such perspective or fundamental premise must be grounded in the knowledge, wisdom, and character of the Sovereign Creator – God, who manifests Himself through the radiant Word that became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
About the Author
The author, Alex Redd, is a Christian theologian, a former Liberian journalist who served as guidance counselor at both Berkeley and Oakland Unified School Districts in California. He can be reached at [email protected].