Kenya sets new regulations for religious leaders, churches

Attorney General Githu Muigai

Kenya: New rules that require clerics to submit certificates of good conduct and their theological training certificates are now ready for implementation.

The Religious Societies Rules published by the Attorney General‘s Office also require that all religious organisations submit their constitution showing statement of their doctrine of faith. The rules affect imams, pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders.

Any religious society in Kenya must have its constitution with programmes, ministries, charitable activities and education activities undertaken by the religious society and details of persons coordinating these activities. According to the new rules, all religious societies must be registered and open to the registrar's inspection any time. All religious leaders must make a declaration of familial relations with other religious leaders and officers. In this case, officers include secretary, treasurer, trustees and committee members.

They also demand that all pastors in Kenya must hold a theological certificate from an accredited theological institution. The new rules are set to be gazetted at the end of January, officials at the Attorney General's Office said Sunday. They will, however, be operational after a year.

The rules are aimed at regulating religious bodies. They will affect all faiths, including mainstream Christian, Hindu and Islamic institutions and the numerous small groupings that have been accused of conning and brainwashing their followers or engaging in radicalisation and other dangerous doctrines.

Back in November 2014, Attorney General Githu Muigai had promised regulations to help streamline churches and mosques following a public outcry. This was aimed at weeding out those who want to commercialise churches and stop mosques from being used as breeding grounds for terrorists.

"Recent media reports on alleged illicit activities by certain religious institutions have necessitated us to take remedial action," he had said in a statement.

Aware that the Constitution provides for the freedom of worship, Prof Muigai said the Government was only seeking to hold religious leaders accountable to their flock.

"The idea of religious freedom is fundamental. However, it cannot be left without oversight. People want the Government to do more," he said.

And recently, Deputy President William Ruto promised 'suitable amendments', saying the Government will not muzzle the church. Ruto assured faithful during a Sunday service at Jesus Celebration Church in Bamburi, Mombasa. "We will do the necessary amendments to ensure only those who are misusing the word of God are dealt with," he said.

However, a section of the clergy have faulted the Government over the proposed rules aimed at radically changing the way churches operate.

The new regulations also demand that any individual church be a member of an umbrella body and each body must have 2,500 churches registered as an Umbrella Religious Society. They also require that any religious organisation submit a letter of authorisation from the headquarters and a copy of a duly notarised registration certificate of the headquarters, specify the physical address from which it intends to operate, which shall include details on the land reference number or plot number, building, floor and the street or road on which the religious society will be situated.

The new rules are different from those formulated by the Communications Authority of Kenya, which prohibits preachers from using broadcasting channels to convert people to their faith or opinion.

They state that the religious organisation must have at least a third of its officers being Kenyan citizens and where it has foreign religious leaders and officers, submit in respect of each religious leader and officer a certified copy of a work permit, an alien identification card, passport and a letter of recommendation from the relevant embassy.

Those who default on the demands commit an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh20,000 and each officer shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both, the rules say. "A religious society shall display, in a conspicuous place at the location of its operations, the certificate of registration issued under these rules," says the rules.

The umbrella religious societies' registration will be for a period of two years, within which the umbrella religious society shall register 5,000 members. "The interim registration of an umbrella religious society which shall not have registered 5,000 members as prescribed shall lapse. Each religious society shall be a member of an umbrella religious society."

Review doctrines

The umbrella religious society will provide a forum for consultation among the religious societies and will form the platform for self-regulation of the society.

It will develop a code of conduct for its members, review doctrines and religious teachings of its membership, review the qualifications of a religious leader, review the curriculum and training offered by theological institutions and the educational activities of religious societies and establish an internal dispute resolution mechanism.

Further, it will recommend new applications for registration of a religious society, provide a platform for consultation, engagement and dialogue between the Government and religious societies.

It will also promote the sharing of knowledge among religious communities of their respective principles and values, with the aim of building a peaceful and just society in Kenya and promote interfaith cooperation and create a culture of peace, justice and healing among religious societies.

The societies will be required to maintain a register of its members and the register of members will be updated every year and give a statement on the source of funding of the religious society, the rules say.

Further, they will be required to hold annual financial returns with audited accounts for the financial year, declaration of the assets and liabilities of the religious society, tax exemption or clearance certificate of the religious society and bank statements of all accounts operated by the society. The rules require that a religious society shall appoint trustees to be registered by the Registrar of Trusts through a Trust Deed.

A section of pastors have been meeting in Nairobi to discuss the rules ahead of their mobilisation to chart the way forward.