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Church stands firm on draft position

By | April 18th 2010

By Lillian Aluanga

Clamour for a new Constitution has brought State and Church eyeball to eyeball, with the latter vowing to shoot down the document come the referendum.

Still smarting from a credibility crisis following the 2005 Referendum and 2007 election, where it was perceived to have taken sides, the Church seems poised to reassert its voice on the national stage, vowing not to back down on this fight.

The Church, on the one hand, insists the Committee of Experts ignored its concerns, and is urging the faithful to oppose the Draft.

"The Committee of Experts played ping pong with the Church on various articles in the Draft. We read mischief in this and fail to understand why our concerns were not addressed despite raising them several times, both with the team and the Parliamentary Select Committee," says National Council of Churches of Kenya General Secretary, Canon Peter Karanja.

Hardline stance

The State, on the other hand, insists the document can be amended after the Referendum, setting the stage for an unprecedented confrontation if nothing is done to reach consensus.

Both groups have maintained a hardline stance, with the Church vowing to shoot down the Proposed Constitution should provisions on abortion, the Kadhi’s courts and others, it says limit religious freedoms, are not addressed.

The Catholic Church is the latest to add its voice to the debate, and has said it will oppose the draft.

"There has been a lot of attention on the Kadhi’s Courts and abortion, but these aren’t the only concerns the Church has on the Draft," says Karanja.

Among issues he notes the Church is concerned about is Article 8, which he says has been watered down in comparison to what had been proposed in the Harmonised Draft.

Under the Harmonised Draft, provisions had been made de-linking State and religion and stating that all religions would be treated equally.

"Instead of dealing with the issue, these clauses were deleted. We want them reinstated to curb chances of showing partiality to one religion," says Karanja.

Karanja says while the Church is not opposed to saving the life of an expectant woman in emergency situations, the clause that leaves the discretion of making this call to trained health professionals, lays the framework to ‘make abortion available’.

The arguments have, however, been discounted by Committee of Experts member Otiende Amollo, who says the draft is clear on these issues.

Misplaced blame

Amollo says claims that the CoE is to blame for various omissions the Church is taking issue with are misplaced. He cites the example of Article 24, which the Church argues exempts Muslims from certain aspects of the Bill of Rights, and says this was a consequence of the inclusion of the Kadhi’s Courts, and has no bearing on those who don’t ascribe to the faith.

"It is my opinion that the Church is either intentionally misreading the Draft, which has been rendered in very simple language, or is allowing itself to be misled in its interpretation of it," Amollo says.

Karanja also cites Article 32, which provides that a person may not be denied access to any institution, employment or facility… based on one’s belief or religion. The prelate says while the current Constitution expressly grants the right for one to convert from one religion to another, the same is missing from the Draft.

"We want this right secured in law. It’s okay in principle not to bar one from employment on account of their faith particularly in Government institutions and the civil service. But exceptions should have been made for private institutions run by religious communities such as places of education and religious instruction," he says.

Amollo, however, says the Church had ample time to seek redress for their grievances and that it was unfair to blame the CoE.

But even as the Church plays hard ball it has been saddled by claims that its using the draft as a crutch to redeem its image, tainted by the 2005 plebiscite and the 2007 General Election.

There have also been allegations that it is fronting the interests of the Church in the West, particularly on their stand on the Kadhi’s Courts and abortion. This comes against the backdrop of claims by some within religious ranks that issues such as abortion are moral subjects that the Church should have effectively dealt with at the congregational level.

"That is not true. There is no involvement of anybody other than the Kenyan church in this process. We operate on the basis of the Scripture, which is universal. As such the positions we take on certain issues may be similar to those taken elsewhere," says Karanja. "In 2005, the Church was accused of abandoning the flock when they told their congregants to vote with their conscience. Now we are taking a stand and have tabled our grievances. Let these be responded to," he adds.

The prelate also discounts claims that the clergy were speaking for themselves adding that they represent the views shared by their member churches.

"There is no mechanism that would bring 30millon Christians in a forum to make decisions. Religious leaders, unlike other actors don’t speak for themselves," he says.

Men of cloth

There is also the feeling that the church’s image may suffer a further dent should it lose the ‘No’ drive, coupled with the fact that it could be used by politicians who have an agenda different from that of the men of the cloth.

"Its not about winning or losing. The religious sector still has legitimacy in this country and it is the Church’s responsibility to ensure that when the foundational framework of our laws is being made, concerns touching on the practice of religion are addressed," says Karanja.

"We refuse to surrender the interests of the church and endorse a document which excludes these very interests," he adds.

Others like Evangelical Alliance of Kenya General-Secretary Wellington Mutiso discount claims that the Church is conspiring with politicians to shoot down the Draft.

"It’s pure coincidence that we are riding on the same wagon, because we are doing so for different reasons," says Dr Mutiso. "But we are also looking beyond this Referendum because the Church must reposition itself for 2012."

Both clerics take issue with the media for ‘demonising’ the church for opposing the draft and say there is still a chance to salvage the process.

"It is the obstinacy of those responsible for building consensus that has led us to where we are. Some actors want to shield the draft from those with contrary opinion and the Church should not be blamed if the draft does not sail through the referendum," says Karanja.

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