By Henry Kyambalesa
Recently, a Mr. Patrick Mungo, an aspiring Member of Parliament for Munali constituency, advised the Zambian government to enact a law that would restrain the construction of Mosques and the growth of Islam in the country because, according to him, “Zambia is a Christian Nation … guided and governed by the Ten Commandments.”
Mr. Mungo is certainly not alone in his interpretation of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation by Dr. Frederick Chiluba at State House on 29th December 1991, which was later incorporated into the Preamble of the 1996 Republican constitution.
And he is neither the first nor the last Zambian to interpret the Declaration in this manner. Prof. Venkatesh Seshamani has, for example, described what happened soon after Dr. Chiluba made the Declaration in the following words:
One can recollect the attempt to ban Islamic programs from television and radio soon after Chiluba made the Declaration. Besides, one cannot forget the Livingstone episode in which the Hindu Temple and the Islamic Mosque were destroyed.
Well, this partly explains why I have previously expressed my opposition to the inclusion of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation in the Republican constitution.
In this article, I again wish to share my views on the subject of religion, politics and the State.
The Constitution Should Be Neutral
It is important for national leaders to guard against the imposition of any particular religion on the entire society. The Republican constitution particularly should be a neutral document that should not discriminate against atheists, agnostics or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Jainism, or the Baha’i faith.
In the long run, the Declaration is likely to make non-Christian citizens to feel that they are second-class citizens. And, as Prof. Venkatesh Seshamani has argued, a feeling of religious superiority is likely to develop among Christians by virtue of their religion having been accorded constitutional status, which may lead to bigotry that would prompt them to view non-Christians as lost souls.
By the way, there are more Mosques and Muslims in Israel than there will probably ever be in Zambia over the next 100 years!
Clearly, the Declaration was made without consideration of the dangers of dragging religion into the political arena. Religion is deadly if it is not handled with utmost caution. The precarious problem currently facing Algeria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and a host of other countries around the world which are beleaguered by religious conflicts should serve as a clear warning to each and every peace-loving Zambian to refrain from creating a similar situation that will dog our beloved country in perpetuity.
We should not be blinded by our having experienced no serious religious conflicts so far, but as our country’s population and the membership of each religious denomination swells, we would be shortsighted not to anticipate and make an earnest effort to forestall the incidence of such conflicts. In other words, we need to act proactively.
To wait until the consequences of our failure to reason are upon us is to leave serious religion-based problems for future generations to grapple with. And such failure will eventually prove to us that experience, in relation to this issue, teaches fools, since we have thus far not been able to see beyond our noses.
The Holy Land Is Not a Christian Nation!
There is no country in the world today that can claim to be a Christian nation in its national constitution other than the State of Israel. But, unfortunately, the Holy Land (God’s chosen country, according to the Holy Bible) DOES NOT even have an official religion! And only 3% of Israelis are designated as being Christian, while 3% are designated as being Druze, 18% as being Muslim, and 76% are designated as belonging to Judaism (which is based on the books of the Old Testament and does not recognize Jesus as Savior).
By the way, there are more Mosques and Muslims in Israel than there will probably ever be in Zambia over the next 100 years! And, needless to say, modern-day Jews (whose religion is Judaism rather than Christianity) are the descendants of the family of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Zambia Should Be a “Secular State”!
What Zambia needs, therefore, is a secular state that genuinely recognizes and safeguards each and every individual’s freedom of worship and the freedom to choose one’s religion. At the same time, we should actively DISCOURAGE the following in a deliberate effort to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socio-economic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our country’s religious denominations:
(a) The use of public funds by a local or national government to set up a church or mosque, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;
(b) Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;
(c) The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party;
(d) The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government – that is, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive;
(e) Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government;
(f) Subjection of candidates for election or appointment to public office to a religious test expressly or otherwise requiring them to declare their religious affiliations;
(g) Desecration of any religious symbols or objects by any member or members of Zambian society;
(h) Religious sermons or statements by any individual or group of individuals belonging to any given religious grouping or denomination which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations; and
(i) Conducting of religious sermons or ceremonies involving ten or more people in non-religious public arenas without a police permit, or conducting such activities on public modes of transportation that are not chartered by groups involved.
With these kinds of safeguards, a government does not need to place any restrictions on the construction of Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, or any other houses of worship, or have restraints on the expansion of any religious denomination.
If we fail to enact pieces of legislation designed to protect government institutions and the political arena from the influences of religion, we could actually be sowing the seeds of deadly religion-based conflicts.
Prevention Is Better than Cure
There is a need for Zambia to consider all religious groupings as being equal before the law in the same manner as individual citizens who are members of such groupings are considered. In countries where government leaders have not provided for safeguards against the captivating influences of religion in governance and politics mainly due to lack of foresight, violent clashes among religious groups in their quest to dominate the political sphere, and to impose their religious laws on the citizenry, have become exceedingly difficult to contain.
As an age-old maxim advises us, prevention is better than cure; and a law that treats all religious denominations equally and impartially would be a good start in this regard, even if there are currently more Zambians who profess to be Christians. The religious chauvinism, extremism and fundamentalism portrayed by the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation is a recipe for bloody religion-based conflict in the long run.
There is a need for us to craft a Republican constitution that will enable us to create a socio-economic environment in which religious diversity is appreciated, tolerated and celebrated – a constitution that, to reiterate, considers all religious denominations as being equal before the law, and, therefore, does not seem to favor any particular religious denomination.
In all, the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation is hateful, and it is offensive to non-Christians. It is divisive, and it will eventually be exploited by extremists in our midst to fan tension and skirmishes among our people. And it will, no doubt, become an important tool for recruiting non-Christians by non-Christian extremists in their worldwide diabolical schemes.
We need to take a fresh look at the Declaration through the eyes of non-Christians. In other words, we need to put ourselves in their shoes in order to understand their potential fears, feelings and reaction to the Declaration.
And we need to be aware that non-Christians are keenly watching us from the sidelines, but sooner or later, they will rise and demand to be recognized as bona fide citizens and worshippers who need to be treated as equals in their country’s constitution.
By the way, we are all God’s children regardless of the different ways through which we worship Him, or the different reasons we give for not worshipping Him. And on judgment day, we shall all be judged as individuals and not as citizens of any particular country, such as Zambia or Israel, Nigeria or China, the United States or Cuba, and so forth.
Separation of Religion and the State
Freedom of worship, as well as the choice of one’s religion, is one of the basic individual rights which every government leader in Zambia needs to formally recognize and safeguard. However, there is an apparent need for our beloved country to introduce laws designed to keep religion out of political and public affairs, laws which should ban religious activities and programs which have the potential to indoctrinate credulous members of society.
Obviously, this does not imply that religious denominations in Zambia should not freely advocate their values, beliefs, and causes as interest groups. In a truly democratic society, any and all societal groups should have a right to seek to be heard in governmental decision-making, and to articulate their demands on the government and society’s other groups and institutions.
The rationale for pieces of legislation designed to keep religion out of politics, education, and other public spheres of society that wholly or partly fall under the auspices of the government is to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socio-economic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our beloved country’s religious denominations.
Such legislation is particularly critical for our country, where efforts by the government to break the bondage of the majority of citizens to misery, want, and destitution is likely to be thwarted partly by violent clashes among religious sects.
We could, therefore, do well to pick a leaf from a 1947 United States Supreme Court dicta, which expanded the scope of the First Amendment clause pertaining to “The Establishment of Religion” to include the doctrine of “Separation of Church and State.” According to the dictates of the doctrine, a local or the Federal government cannot do any of the following, which are cited in a book by J. M. Burns and J. W. Peltason:
(a) Set up a church, pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another;
(b) Force or influence a person to go or not to go to church, or force him or her to profess a belief or a disbelief in any religion;
(c) Levy taxes to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion; or
(d) Openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.
And, to reiterate, we need to consider prohibiting the formation of religious-based political parties. Also, we need to prohibit religious groups from making contemptuous remarks about the beliefs and/or practices of other religious denominations. If not prevented, there is no doubt that altercations among our country’s religious groups concerning the truthfulness of their different faiths will eventually trigger very serious conflicts in the country.
In all, I am confident that religious institutions in Zambia will continue to provide the moral and spiritual direction to our nation in an era that has been high-jacked by unprecedented violence and moral decay, and to articulate the people’s demands on the government for a more democratic, more peaceful, more prosperous, and more egalitarian society.
What Really Is a “Secular State”?
In the ensuing paragraphs, I wish to discuss briefly the nature of a “secular state,” much of which I have excerpted and adapted from Wikipedia.
Essentially, a “secular state” is a nation-state or a country that purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. It also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of the nature of their religious beliefs, and it does not have an official religion.
In other words, the term “secular state” refers to a nation-state or a country that honors individuals’ freedom of worship, prevents religion from interfering with governmental decision-making, and excludes it from the realms of governance and/or the exercise of political power.
And laws in such a nation-state protect each and every individual (including religious minorities) from discrimination on the basis of one’s religious affiliation.
Basically, a “secular state” is not an atheistic nation-state that officially denies the existence of God. In some “secular states” (such as Thailand and Turkey), there can be a dominant religion, while in others (such as India and Lebanon), there can be great religious diversity.
Some “secular states” may even have de facto official religions (such as Indonesia and Peru), where some government officials have to belong to certain religious denominations even though the country and its government does not officially support any religious denomination.
Views on the Subject from Other Authors
A lot of people have written about the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation, either in support or against the Declaration. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I have provided the following statements from two authors which are against the Declaration:
1) Paraphrased from Fr. Peter Henriot:
“Being a Christian in a Christian Nation,” Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection: http://www.jctr.org.zm/, December 2, 1998:
Theologically, what does it mean to say that a political entity such as a nation is declared to be Christian? Certainly, you cannot baptize a nation. And we cannot expect the profession of the Apostle’s Creed to be made by a nation, nor can a nation perform a liturgical act of Christian worship!
Constitutionally, does this legally establish a formal state religion? Does the inclusion of the declaration in the Constitution thereby preclude a non-Christian from becoming President? After all, the oaths of elective public offices require incumbents to uphold the Constitution, and would we be asking non-Christian candidates to put their consciences to the test of Christian support?
2) Paraphrased from Prof. Venkatesh Seshamani:
“A Hindu View of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation,” http://www.sedos.org/english/seshamani.htm/, Ref: JCTR, Number 46, 4th Quarter 2000:
By virtue of their religion being uniquely accorded constitutional status, a feeling of religious superiority can develop among Christians in the country. The greater danger would be if this feeling of religious superiority degenerates into bigotry that prompts one to look at all non-Christians as lost souls that need to be saved. One can recollect the attempt to ban Islamic programs from television and radio soon after Chiluba made the Declaration.
Besides, one cannot forget the Livingstone episode in which the Hindu temple and the Islamic mosque were destroyed.
The danger that all non-Christians may be branded as dangerous or as satanic cannot be ruled out. Although no material change has occurred for the Hindu community so far since and as a result of the Declaration, what assurance is there that this will be the case in the future as well, especially when the present leaders are no longer there?
By the way, if I have succeeded in provoking a heated debate on this issue, I will go to sleep tonight a very happy man indeed!
The author, Mr. Henry Kyambalesa, is a Zambian academician currently living in the City and County of Denver in the State of Colorado, USA. He is the Interim President of the Agenda for Change (AfC) Party.