Legislating Religious Liberty: The Ghanaian Experience

Article excerpt

The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes prejudice and it unmakes prejudice. While the creeds of the great religions are universalistic, all stressing brotherhood, the practice of these creeds is frequently divisive and brutal. The sublimity of religious ideals is offset by the horrors of persecution in the name of these same ideals. Some people say the only cure for prejudice is more religion; some say the only cure is to abolish religion. Churchgoers are more prejudiced than the average; they also are less prejudiced than the average.l

I. INTRODUCTION: RELIGION AND POLITICS

Religious differences exist in almost all countries. Religion is a very strong instrument which can either pull a country together or, if misapplied, split a country apart. It has been one of the most common bases for discrimination and abuse of the rights of others since the two major religions of contemporary times, Christianity and Islam, gained ascendancy into world affairs. When pursued along political lines, religion can devastate the lives of many. The unfortunate examples include: the fate of the Jews in Germany during the Second World War, the fratricidal wars currently going on in Algeria and the Sudan, the activities of Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt, Christian fanatics of the Lord's Army in Uganda, the religion-based massacres in Yugoslavia, and the exploits of the Talibans in Afghanistan. These examples show how religious extremism can create misery among a people.

Because of the potentially volatile nature of religion when introduced into national life, most nations have decided to eliminate religious influence from public life as much as possible.

Religious beliefs are sensitive, emotional issues for many men and women which appeal not to human logic, but rather to irrationality. Likewise, a person denied of strongly held religious beliefs is a person without a soul; he or she is robbed of the very factor that keeps hopes alive. It is for these reasons that it is often much easier to create fanatics and martyrs in the religious field than in any others. Thus, questions bordering on religion are often very volatile and difficult to manage. It is therefore not surprising that most of the longest wars in the history of the human race were those sparked by religious bigotry.

Separating government and religious institutions respects the religious beliefs of others. The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief stresses the importance of respecting all religious beliefs: "Religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements in his conception of life."2 Any attack on the belief or religion of any person is thus an attack on one's very existence; it is, at the least, an attack on one's humanity. In this regard, any action of the state which would impinge on any belief system or religious conscience of a people should be taken with extreme caution. After all, the state exists to ensure the realization of the humanity of all.

There exists the extreme danger of governmental machinery being utilized by religious bigots to discriminate against others for religious reasons. Hence, there has been the incessant effort by many to dissociate the state from religious beliefs so as to avoid religious conflicts which have the potential of easily destroying a state. According to Arnold Toynbee, "religious conflict is not just a nuisance but is a sin. It is sinful because it arouses the wild beast in Human Nature. Religious persecution, too, is sinful because no one has a right to try to stand between another human soul and God."3

History has shown a continuous trend of separating state from religion. As the years pass, we have seen this trend increase. In Europe during the 18th century, the basis for religious practice was cujus regio ius religio, implying religious conformity with the interests of the monarch. …