Scrutinise churches' financial aspects, human rights violations

Ours is a secular state

Eliud Wekesa also known as Yesu Wa Tongaren being escorted with police to Bungoma law courts on May 11, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The state must treat all religions impartially. Discrimination on the basis of religion is forbidden. Consequently, the Constitution enshrines the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. This right can be enjoyed individually or in community with others.

Worship or practice thereof, teaching or observance of a day of worship may be in public or in private. In brief, freedom of religion is the right to choose what religion to follow and worship without unjustified interference. This freedom carries several dimensions and overlaps with other human rights, including the right to life and freedom of expression.

The preamble acknowledges the supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation. But that does not translate into ignoring the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity and freedom.

The spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights must be the guiding principle for the enjoyment of these liberties. The need to ensure that the enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms by any individual does not trample upon similar rights of others is paramount. Thus, citizens must practice their faith in line with justice and morality.

Todays' church in Kenya is crumbling under its own weight. Legitimacy of its ministers is in serious doubt. Fingers are being pointed to satanic obeisance, unholy rites and cruel rituals. Overbearing teachings, dogmas and traditions that diminish the standing of women, children and youth among others cannot be missed. Its unity is in disarray. Currently, it's being haunted by the reality of public scorn and state regulation. Issues such as the clergy taking political sides, nightclubs turning into churches and the climax in Shakahola church massacre, add fuel to fire.

Indeed, Kenya is not alone in this evil. In 1978, Jim Jones, a cult leader in the USA, orchestrated a mass murder-suicide of roughly a thousand of his church members. Around 800 members were burnt alive in Uganda in early 2000s. Led by a soi-disant high priestess, the followers were manipulated by their cult leader through fictitious predictions of Armageddon. Judgment Day was manually orchestrated for the victims who were locked inside a church house, with the doors and windows nailed shut from the outside before it was torched.

These eye-opening religious or faith-based fraud through allurement or inducement cannot be understood as freedom. Suggestions that inhuman suffering and even death would please God must first be illustrated by the shepherds of these cults. It's deception to promise anyone a ticket to heaven through starving to death.

This wretched condition of contemporary church resembles biblical Israel's spiritual quagmire. Jesus had to use a whip in the temple when the church lost its direction. The temple was immersed in a rut, obscene wealth-obsession and accumulation, and apathetic in divine treasure.

The right to freedom of conscience and religion is no doubt guaranteed under the Constitution. But it may be limited by law to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom. The importance of the purpose of the limitation is equally relevant.

A few things need to be put in a perspective including the following illustratively. Can we convert a church into a nightclub by night? Is just to entice followers including children to starve to death to attain heavenly providence while you are luxuriating in leisure and excess from the proceeds of their property? Is it religious to accumulate wealth that is beyond what the church needs to glorify God? And lastly, is it unlawful for the State to regulate this freedom where the church has meandered away from its calling?

Religion, as a non-profit entity, must plough a good amount of its income in any financial year into furthering the purposes of the organisation. That's why they have survived for so long even with appearances of being credulous, illogical and profoundly inflexible. Religions have played a decisive role in influencing the history of mankind. Unfortunately, the belief and anxiety of humans in God has aided the clerics to live in abundance without much work to show for it while enjoying from tax exemption.

I opine that the state can constitutionally act to reign in the church to maintain constitutional equipoise. A line must be drawn between religion and business. Business activities of churches and religious houses must contribute to the exchequer by being taxed as business empires. They have nothing to do with religious freedom. Any other interpretation denies the State its rightful revenue.

Religious institutions are public entities for they acquire their outrageous wealth from people. It's therefore important to bring them under the cover of the access to information regime for monitoring and accountability.

The rider of course is that the State should desist from the instinct of inhibiting the customs and rites but must scrutinise the financial aspects and human rights violations involved without blinking. The public has a duty to watch out for false prophets who come in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Yes, let's be awake and recognise them by their fruit.