Is Ghana still a secular state?

Wed, 4 Mar 2015 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, March 2, 2015

Folks, many happenings in our contemporary Ghana leave me wondering whether we really are serious about spending time and resources solving problems to improve living conditions. We seem to have too much time and too little to do and make ourselves idle enough for the devil to give assignments to.

And our leaders are happy that we have all the zeal to do such unproductive assignments, even as they (themselves) do worse assignments but manage to exploit the situation for personal gains. Too pathetic!!

The heads of some second cycle (mostly Christian) institutions have intensified efforts to ensure that students attend church services against their will and religion. Recently, Muslim women were also asked to remove their hijabs before they would be allowed to take passport pictures for their examinations.

Two conflicting positions on this controversy have emerged so far from official circles. While the government has decried this directive, the Ghana Education Service (the enforcer of official policies on education in the country) is vehemently supporting it to boost the morale of the heads of schools bent on twisting arms.

The government opposes the directive by the heads of the mission schools, which explains why president Mahama gave the directive to all heads of public institutions, including schools, to desist from forcing Muslim students to compulsorily join Christian fellowships. And that is also why the Communication Minister, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, released a statement condemning the acts of religious intolerance in schools and warned of punitive measures against heads of institutions who would violate the country's constitution which upholds freedom of religion.

Again, the government’s position is reinforced by the Education Minister, Prof Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang, who is reported to have said that she would not tolerate any acts of religious coercion in the educational institutions.

Speaking on Joy FM's Super Morning Show on Monday, the Minister said the school is a place to build tolerance as well as respect for diversity and any attempt to subvert such values will be dealt with severely.

Despite these official directives and declarations of intent, the matter is being further worsened to create the impression that the government is ambivalent.

In a press release, the Public Relations officer of the Ghana Education Service, Charles Parker Allotey, insisted that all students in missionary secondary schools to attend morning devotion sessions if it is a school rule.

The impression being created is not good. It is negative and alarming as far as how religious bigotry is creeping into national affairs to add to existential woes. Why should the Ministry of Education oppose religious bigotry but its technical wing (the GES) support it?

Nothing is more disturbing than the twist being given the matter by Parker Allotey: “We are trying to encourage our students notwithstanding their faith to come together to worship and it brings about national unity. If a Muslim takes part in morning worship, it doesn’t mean the person is being forced to convert to Christianity.”

Plain stupidity on display here. How can all students come together to worship, irrespective of their faith? What will be the liturgy at that meeting under one roof? Will the Christians do things as they wish and the Muslims too do same. What babel won’t there be?

And if we bring in adherents of other faiths (traditional African religion, Hari Krishna, etc.), what cacophony won’t there be at such a gathering?

Is there any need at all for any “morning devotion”? I don’t think so. Although there is need for a morning assembly at the schools as part of the rigours, turning such a gathering into a religious convention is unacceptable, clearly because of the risks involved.

I don’t want to be told that such morning devotion is serving any useful purpose toward “national unity” or anything else coming from the GES. It is pure humbugging of students and must be condemned.

Religion doesn’t ensure national unity; it threatens it, especially in our Ghanaian situation where multiple religious faiths exist and where despite the mushrooming of Christianity, there is little evidence to prove that virtue has taken over from vice in national life. Just look around you to see those in public office professing to be Christians and consider the dirt that exists wherever they work: theft of public funds, immorality, social injustice, and many others that undermine Christian values.

I have singled out Christians because they make the loudest noise about religious issues as if they don’t know that Christianity is a lifestyle and not a faith to be professed by word of mouth!!

Morning devotion as a catalyst for national unity, my foot!!

The fear is that if the matter becomes politicized, it will inflame passions and set the country on a time-bomb. The recipe for disaster is solidifying. Those sowing the seed of discord should be quickly identified and dealt with before their religious bigotry matures.

It is not as if the mission schools are in the hands of the various missions. Ever since the Rawlings government divested them of control over such schools, they have been largely sidelined and their stentorian calls for the schools to be returned to them have not been heeded. In effect, the schools are being managed by the government as public schools, which is why their doors remain open to just any student who seeks admission into them, regardless of religious faith or fervour. Why, then, should any directive on morning devotion the Christian way be imposed as the norm?

The truth must be told that this directive will combine with others already destabilizing life in the schools to compound problems. Of all issues bothering our second-cycle schools, is it morning devotion that should engage official attention? Is it morning devotion that will solve problems?

We can take issues further, especially to question what is happening in Muslim schools too. Do these schools have any room for non-Muslims or will the non-Muslims be tolerated to do things as their religious faith permits? If not, why not?

The truth, though, is that there is too much attention to religion in our public affairs. In civilized communities practising our kind of democracy, the line is drawn between matters of religion and public conscience. No single faith is imposed on anybody nor is anybody punished for not towing the line.

Ghana is a secular state and must be upheld as such. That is why what is emerging now is scary!!

What is it about Christianity that Islam (or any other faith) lacks? It’s all a matter of doctrinal differences. Clearly, there is no difference between a Christian’s “God” and a Muslim’s “Allah”. So also is there no difference between the Christian’s Jesus Christ and the Muslim’s Muhammad, regardless of the Christian’s conception and perception of Jesus as a God-head. The truth is that Muslims regard and respect Jesus as one of the prophets.

Muslims hardly condemn Christians for what they are, contrary to what Christians do. The foundational issues here have more to do with the arrogance of Christians than the religious intolerance of Muslims, something superlatively qualified as religious extremism or fundamentalism.

On the basis of arrogance, Christians are quick to dismiss all other religions as “heathen”, pursuing their so-called “Great Commission” to proselytize, deceiving themselves that the more people they convert, the more successful their ministry will become.

I am seriously perturbed at such manouevres. Let’s recall the impudence with which the late President Mills acted by banning African traditional religious rites at national functions. That singular act will go down as a sad reflection on the confused state of mind with which he ruled Ghana.

If the country is still a secular state, then, those in positions of trust should know how to do things so as not to create fertile grounds for disaffection, which will definitely lead to acts of sabotage by embittered segments of the society. Of all “touchy” issues that trigger terrorism or national destabilization, none is more scary than religious intolerance.

What has begun being enacted and enforced in the so-called Christian mission schools will definitely endanger well-being and set the stage for unpleasant developments. The government must act firmly and decisively to curb it before it festers.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.