BY REV CANON FRANCIS OMONDI
The zeal with which the Attorney General Prof. Githu Mungai seized the moment, of Kanyari’s escapades, in streamlining churches and mosques should concern us. Our suspicion touched the ceiling when he suspended registration of new churches and mosques until fresh regulations are set. Though sharp as remedial solutions, its a double entendre whose other meaning may be hidden in a move against freedoms. The move is ill advised and will do little to stem the alleged illicit activities by certain religious institutions in the country which they are geared to tame. Shouldn’t The ‘mortician’ have allow the surgeons to pronounce the patient dead before swinging into action?
Some time ago, while justifying himself in a case Kenya lost in the Anglo-leasing scam, Githu said: “The man you see before you is a mortician. The patient died on the operating table long time ago. Githu Muigai is the mortician. If you think the patient should have lived, ask the surgeons.” But in this case the patient is still breathing. What is itching our mortician ?
The state seems to have developed an appetite for regulations. The other day it was streamlining the NGOs, but now guns are turned on the churches, mosques and religious groups. There is no doubt that the government was planning some kind of regulation before. The excuse that, suspending registration of all religious organisations to weed out those who want to commercialise churches and stop mosques from being used as breeding grounds for terrorists, is quite convenient. It’s said that the state action was prompted by a TV documentary exposing the dirty tricks used by Salvation Healing Ministry’s leader Victor Kanyari to make millions out of his followers in the name of “seed money”. This action though is despicable it is not confined only in the churches. There are many ‘waganga’ from God knows where and pyramid schemers who have in the same way fleeced the unsuspecting public of their resources. Not long ago we had one Archbishop Deya of ‘miracle babies’ fame and scandal. His activities were deemed criminal and he was charged accordingly. Even though he fled he is being pursued. Do we need regulation to stamp out crime against the public?
What then is the purpose of penal code? We have sufficient laws in place to deal with those who peddle falsehoods for gain. The Penal Code dedicates 10 sections to all manner of trickery (including fortune telling). So why is the Director of Public Prosecutions slow in taking action? Perhaps those involved for conscience reasons will not come forward. Sorry you might not get witnesses for a strong prosecution case on this. Kenyans are becoming famous for pulling out as witnesses in cases, aren’t we?
According to Kimathi Kamenchu, a legal expert in Nairobi, “The Attorney General does not have prosecutorial powers. This is the preserve of the DPP.” The ‘mortician’ “can posture but he has no power under law to prosecute. His is to safeguard public policy and advise government.”
By not pursuing this as a criminal case, and going full throttle to invite all religious organisations to a meeting on Friday to discuss draft regulations drawn up by his office, got my cup of suspicion full.
It will take a genius to create regulations without denting the bill of rights. The state is restrained by the constitution in as far as the freedom of conscience and therefore religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association go. These are already violated by the Tuesday’s action suspending registration of new religious groups. One expected the state to use the already-provided for by other laws, to address the malpractices, which are not new, without this level of hysteria.
In this dispensation of Liberal Democracy, the state’s attempt to regulate religious groups is an even greater challenge. Today people are free to exercise their religion as their conscience dictates. The free exercise clause prohibits the state, in most instances, from interfering with a person’s practice of their religion. When no one makes an official complaint, it will remain a huge task to institute any case, however juicy, it may seem.
So in our case, bringing in Religious bodies to agree and regulate, or rein in the errant groups,leaves a lot to be desired. The religious groups are caged in vested interests and bias. It is not unfounded to imagine that this process could be used to beat into submission groups that are viewed errant. There is a high possibility of collusion to edge out unwanted payers. No, neither the religious groups nor the state can or should regulate religious groups. The consequence can be bitter.
John Locke, the famous eighteenth-century social theorist, saw the value of keeping state apart from religion. Locke argued that the government lacked authority in the realm of individual conscience, as this was something rational people could not cede to the government for it or others to control. For Locke, this created a natural right in the liberty of conscience, which he argued must therefore remain protected from any government authority. Failure to observe this would plunge them back to religious intolerance from which there is no fleeing from.
As long as the problems for which people seek miracles or breakthroughs persists, there will be no end to illegal innovation and the ilk of Kanyari. Unfortunately that’s our context. We live in a country where health services are desperately wanting. It is out of desperation that citizens seek prayers for their ailments instead of medical care. Anyone who claims to offer alternative solutions will never cease to find clients. Unemployment and poverty has made many to gamble the little resources they have in hope to get more and live their dreams. The lure to ‘plant seed’ and the gain of a huge harvest they never planted will always make thesepreachers flourish.
It will however be simplistic to say that only the poor and the unemployed get trapped. Greed and desire to move up to the next level seem to have bewitched even educated people. Can the state succeed in regulating these groups without first doing something about the demand factor being addressed? Scoundrels will at best be driven underground.
I suggest we should be very restrained in our attempt to make regulations by the state, but deal with the demand factors more. On the other hand, the state must apply the law while leaving practice and problems of religion to the individual’s conscience. Hear Thomas Jefferson, the American founding father, on this; “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between manand his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions…”
Our mortician must allow the surgeons space. Let the embalming fluids and the casket wait!
The writer serves with All Saints Cathedral Diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya. The views expressed here are his own. (firstname.lastname@example.org )