Separating Religion From The State: Hon Isaac Osei’s Candid View
'Separating Religion from the State'. This topic appears to suggest some fusion between Religion and the State which requires separation. Perhaps we can say that what is not together cannot be separated. It is a topic which has been discussed for centuries but it is as relevant today as it was many years ago. Liberals as well as conservatives have severally stated their positions. Politicians and religious leaders have had ongoing debate on this important subject matter.
It is relevant for Africa in general and Ghana in particular as we forge the critical pathways to democratic maturation. Religion is about a set of beliefs, value systems, norms and practices based on the teachings of a revered leader. The state may be defined severally but I suggest that we look at it simply as a political entity with a government with legal authority to run the affairs of a people in a defined geographic area.
From ancient times, especially in Europe, Kings have been assumed to be divinely ordained to rule - hence the fusion of religion and the state. From the mid - 17th century, liberal thinkers like Thomas Hobbes started writing about the rights of the individual and the natural equality of men; this led to ideas about representation and people's consent. Democracy as we know it began taking root.
First, permit me to say a few words about what is probably persisting in some countries. Let us start with Germany because that is the home country of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation which is sponsoring today's seminar. The ruling coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria was founded on the principle that all have a responsibility to God in upholding Christian ideals. The liberal FDP are allies of the CDU/CSU but it has to be said that the CDU is a Christian party drawing most of its support mainly from Catholics and from Protestants as well. On the face of it, the philosophy of the CDU/CSU may make it untenable for non- Christians to participate in the political process using these parties as vehicles. However, the Basic Law of Germany guarantees fundamental human rights and establishes democracy, social responsibility and federalism as non-negotiable aspects of German Law. In spite of its basic philosophy, I am certain that in governance, the ruling coalition's, conservative and liberal positions will be more important than its Christian colouration.
In the United Kingdom, the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England (the Anglican Church). Even though her authority is more moral than political, the sovereign wields considerable influence. The Anglican Church is the official State religion but this does not preclude others from observing or practicing their faiths. Indeed practically, all British Prime Ministers have been Anglicans and while there is no Law barring anyone from the top political job, a non - Anglican cannot advise the Head of State on ecclesiastical appointments.
The unwritten British Constitution is based on two principles namely the Rule of Law and the Supremacy of Parliament. So statutes and judicial decisions constitute the body of Law which one may call the British Constitution.
The Catholic Relief Act passed by the British Parliament in 1858 says that no Roman Catholic or Jew may advise the Sovereign on ecclesiastical matters. By implication non-Anglicans are unlikely to become Prime Ministers.
The United Sates constitution does not mention religion but in the Bill of Rights specifically the first Amendment it is stated that 'Congress shall make no Law respecting the establishment of religion' Indeed Thomas Jefferson the 3rd President of the United States in a letter to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association wrote' Believing with you that Religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none for his faith or his worship that the legitimate powers of government reach action only not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no Law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State '. There has been a lot of debate on what Jefferson meant. What is clear is that he sees religion as a private or personal matter and there should be a clear separation of Religion from the State. In spite of this every dollar note issued by the Federal Reserve Board has the inscription 'In God We Trust'
In Saudi Arabia, there is no separation of the State from religion. The country's basic Laws of Governance are based on the application of Sharia Law. Indeed one of the most liberal of Saudi princes, Talal bin Abdul Aziz is quoted as saying that there cannot be any constitution, regulation or law that runs counter to the Islamic Sharia in Saudi Arabia. Article 1 states that God's Book (the Holy Quran) and the Sunnah of His Prophet are the country's Constitution. In Malaysia, federal Law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims, even though among non-Muslims evangelization is permitted.
RELIGION AND THE STATE
I just want us to keep in mind the topic that we are discussing today. 'Separating Religion from the State' the question really is, what role religion plays in the political or public space. It is about what relationship exists or should exist between religion and public governance formally and informally. What channels of communication should we have between the State and the people as government performs its public duties on the one hand and the people undertake their private avocations on the other. It is also clearly about whether government in its public capacity should intrude the private space in which religion operates.
RELIGION,'A LEAVEN OF SOCIETY'
Pope Francis in a speech in Brazil only last week called on the Brazilian government 'to affirm the value of religion in society so that religions can contribute to open dialogue in the public square'. He further said that great religious traditions 'play a fruitful role as a leaven of society and a life giving force for democracy'. The Pope chose his words carefully and suggested to Brazil's leaders that religion can have a transformational influence. He also implied that a dialogue between the State and the Catholic Church could give greater impetus to democracy and by implication the fruits of democracy in a fast growing economy like Brazil. The Pope, arguably the most influential religious leader in the world, was really speaking not only to Brazil's leaders but was also speaking to a wider international audience. The Pope was really saying to the world that religion can assist the State to ensure that the fruits of democracy were enjoyed by a majority of people.
In Ghana, our Constitution treats religion more as a matter for the individual and guarantees in various articles of Chapter 5 freedom of worship and emphasizes the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of religion or creed. In Article 26(1) for example, every person is entitled to enjoy, practice, profess and promote any culture, language, tradition, religion or creed subject to the provisions of the Constitution. Under the Directive Principles of State Policy, in Article 35(5) the State shall actively promote the integration of the peoples of Ghana and prohibit discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of origin, circumstances of birth, ethnic origin, gender, religion, creed or other belief.
The fundamental Law of Ghana does not give preference to any religion and recognizes the rights of individuals in professing and practicing their faith. So our Law does not accord religion any real space in the political arena. Thus, there is a 'de jure' separation of the State from religion. This does not mean that religion does not play a role in the affairs of State. Informally, religion is an important player in the affairs of the State.
In Ghana, there appears to be a common purpose between religion and the State e.g. In key areas like education and health, Mission schools and hospitals have for a long time played important roles. Mission schools such as Mfantsipim (Methodists), St. Augustine's (Catholic) and Adisadel (Anglican) preceded the setting up of Achimota (Government). Both the State and the Church accept that the ultimate beneficiaries of their actions should be the people.
In politics, Ghanaian leaders have often 'harvested' God for their own political ends. Many Ghanaian leaders past and present have used Christian, Muslim and traditional festivals to show their commitment to practitioners of these faiths even though they themselves may not profess those faiths. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah our first President recognizing the importance of the three great Ghanaian religions always ensured that at the beginning of every national public event, a traditionalist poured libation while Christian and Muslim prayers were said. This was the practice until the emergence of President Mills who strangely allowed his personal religious beliefs to enter the public space when he banned the pouring of libation at national/public events. Happily in recent times the principle of non-discrimination against any religion has been restored and the Ghanaian acceptance of a multi - faith nation is once again established.
BANNER OF GOD
In political campaigns and in more recent times, President Attah Mills was ordained 'the Asomdweehene' or King of Peace by some traditional rulers and that title was harvested by his party, the NDC to emphasize that he loved 'peace' The NDC government has gone further to christen 'Geese Park' where he is buried as 'Asomdwee Park'. Christians know that the Bible calls Jesus Christ, 'the Prince of Peace' - (King & Prince). In 2012, the NPP leader, Nana Akufo - Addo indicated that the 'Battle is the Lord's' in obvious allusion to 2 Chronicles 20, 15&17. This may have been designed to attract the Christian vote but he had selected Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim as his running mate in line with the Party's tradition. The argument was that at the top of government, it was important to have both the Bible and the Quran. John Mahama's posture where he is pointing to the sky the abode of God and looking up as if to invoke the blessings of the 'Man Up There' is only a part of the political gimmickry of harvesting God for political purposes. 'It is God who installs leaders' has been the NDC mantra justifying the election of Mahama as President in the face of the Election Petition before the Supreme Court.
A VIEW FROM A GHANAIAN LIBERAL
I have since my secondary schools days believed that the best form of government is one which allows every citizen to participate in choosing their leaders and in removing them. My Study of Economics at the University of Ghana in the early 1970s cemented this view. I was fascinated by how in a free market economy the interplay of the forces of supply and demand determined price. I knew that the market was usually not that free or perfect but I was nevertheless fascinated by the Classical Model. We were encouraged to read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations as we studied Samuelson's principles.
My own political philosophy centered on the freedom of the individual and I have believed that we can harness the collective force of free individuals for the common good. In respecting the rights of individuals in a society, I believe firmly that individuals may choose to practice their faiths without the intrusion of the State. In professing one's religion, one should also not seek to impose that religion using the conferred powers of the State.
I accept the provisions of Chapter 3 of the Ghana Constitution which talks about citizenship. I believe that citizenship should not be based on religion. I think our country, Ghana is richer because of our diversity. Different ethnic groups with different faiths and from different backgrounds working freely to build a nation state. Even though about 71.2% Ghanaians profess to be Christians and 17.6% are Muslims with 5.2% traditionalist, my Christian beliefs should lead me to the conclusion that it would be wrong to deny non-Christians Ghanaian citizenship on the basis of their faith.
When I was in secondary school, we went to Church every morning because that was what was required by the school. The question is whether there should be any compulsion to participate in religious activities against your will. I think not. In some countries of the world, you are fined if you fail to vote in a general election. In Ghana some religious groups choose not to exercise their franchise, should they be compelled to vote, I think not
In some countries, Muslim girls attending public schools are barred from wearing their head scarves. Should they be compelled to observe the dress code of public schools? I am not sure but I think not.
I believe that the dichotomy between the State and Religion reinforces the freedom of the individual by protecting what is essentially private from the public space.
Finally, a word on democracy. Ghana's democracy is underpinned by the Rule of Law. The recent Election petition by Akufo-Addo, Bawumia and Obetsebi Lamptey shows that our democracy is maturing. We have come a long way from 2008 when the NDC, in a close election organized a mass of people armed with cudgels and other offensive weapons to force the Electoral Commission to announce results. Religion can indeed assist the State to ensure that such a thing never happens again and that we use appropriate legal means to seek redress no matter the stakes.
Democracy should not simply be about universal adult suffrage properly exercised, it should also be peaceful transfer of power, especially during political turnovers; it ought to be about good governance and using State resources to maximize the common good. It should be about public accountability and transparency. It has to be about strengthening public institutions. In all these the State may open a dialogue with religious leaders and other groups so that Ghana will move forward as a nation.
Hon. Isaac Osei