Liberia Should Remain A Secular State


The Editor,

Permit me to take a position on the ongoing debate to declare Liberia as a Christian State. Liberia should remain a Secular State. According to Article 14 of the Liberian Constitution “ 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”

The first sentence in this article is very clear in our constitution that all persons in Liberia, have the freedom to think and act for themselves, respect the rights of others (including their faith), and will be held accountable for any violation especially if a person’s thought or religious believe contradicts the values and virtue set forth in the constitution (Article 15: a & e).

 The second sentence in Article 14 defines the first sentence in a clearer way that no religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other… This means there shall be no religious class system in Liberia.  The last sentence in Article 14 of the Liberian Constitution further strengthens the second sentence  and declares Liberia as a Secular State which means Liberia shall not establish a state religion thus in line with the principle of separation of religion and state.

Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution states, “This Constitution may be amended whenever a proposal by either (1) two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature or (2) a petition submitted to the Legislature, by not fewer than 10,000 citizens which receives the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature, is ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature.”

I clearly also understand that there are  some citizens who believe that they can override Article 14 by using the language of Article 91 to amend the constitution by two-third of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature thus given all other ramifications. That is a test of democracy and they are absolutely right to exercise their political franchise or democratic tenants. However, don’t get me wrong; they may succeed with their quest if the legislature is comprised of Christian majority.  

So, imagine  after another 50 or 100 years, where other religious groups may dominate the scene in Liberia ( for example the Muslim ,  the Buddhist or the Hindu  religions) where they have the money or power, they will as well petition the legislature to amend the constitution in favor of their religion  declaring Liberia a Muslim, or Buddhist State. I don’t think we want to establish precedence of a vicious circle of religious State. Religious test is not the reason for Liberia’s backwardness or economic stagnation. Religious test will divide us further because it will create hurt feelings from other religious groupings in the country.

Remember that the settlers met people residing on this soil now called Liberia. The aborigines had their religious believes. Some came from a Muslims descents (from the declined Ancient African Empires: Ghana, Mali and Songhai) and there is no doubt some were animist. Although the settlers’ emancipation was advocated by Christian philanthropists (The American Colonization Society ), the settlers knew better and that is why they did not establish a religious State.  

They knew the land was not originally theirs ; they knew  they were dumped here by the white man who believed the settlers (slaves)  were no longer useful in the new white economy. Machines had replaced human labors. The French dumped their free slaves in what became known as Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal, etc. The British dumbed their free slaves in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, etc. The German in other parts of Southern Africa, as well as the Portuguese on the various Island around Africa.
1. Cote d’voire ( formerly Ivory Coast)  that has its population to be majority Muslim is not an Islamic State (Follow)
2. Guinea population is 84% Muslim but is not an Islamic state either and there is freedom of religion (Follow)
3. Islam is the largest religion in Sierra Leone, with significant Christian and animist minorities. According to a 2015 estimate from the Pew Research Centre, 78.0% of the population is Muslim, 20.9% is Christian, while the rest of the population is either animist or follows other religious beliefs. Yet, Sierra Leone is not an Islamic or Christian State (Follow). See the constitution of Sierra Leone (Follow). Ghana is a Secular State (Follow) and the list goes on for Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, etc.

Establishing a religious State is not precedential in West Africa and probably we should not be the first. I agree we have been the first to take the lead in independence, yet still behind economically of countries like Ghana and Nigeria that gained their independence yesterday; the first to have a ruling party (True Whig Party) for a century which led to our backwardness, culminated into the coup d’état of April 12, 1980 and subsequently the 14 year civil strife (1989-2003); the first to have Africa female president who has reached her diminishing marginal return (increasing in age but declining in ideas to transform Liberia even after 10 years in power).

I don’t think we should be the first in West Africa this time around to establish a so called “religious State”. This might create another conflict ( religious conflict) which is not only counterproductive to the wounds we are still healing in Liberia but has the propensity to throw us far back from the progress we have made as a country to overcome the 14 years senseless civil strife.

I can quite remember when I was growing up as a child in the 70s, my parents would allow me (other parents allowed their children as well) to join the Muslims to celebrate their Ramadan and when Christmas came bye, the Muslim would also dress their children to join us celebrate the holidays. We also join the Muslims to eat their morning and evening food at their breakfast. This was awesome and remarkable- a bond of unity and happiness.

We are not God to judge who will go to heaven. The bible and the Quran are two great books that teach moral lessons with a fundamental concept of the fear of God. Let them live with their beliefs and we as well live with ours. If in the name of religion a group of people decide to violate the constitution by infringing on peoples liberty, the law should take its course. Therefore, we should not establish a religious State called “Christian Nation”.

Prince Yeakehson (Liberia Presidential Aspirant come 2017)
[email protected]