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The Thin Veil Separating Church From State; Where Must Ghana Draw The Line?

How much interference religion should have in secular states like Ghana has never been quelled, these past few weeks a lot happened to reawaken the debate.

21/03/2017 03:53 SAST | Updated 21/03/2017 03:53 SAST
Kayhan Ozer/ Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images

Ghanaians are the kind of people who pray for rain, and when it rains they pray for drought. They pray for and about everything and anything. Typically, the average Ghanaian believes that the hand of God can steer any event in their favour. A few years ago, when the Ghana Cedi, was hemorrhaging against major currencies of the world i.e. the US Dollar and Pound Sterling, many religious groupings offered special prayers for its recovery.

Prominent among these groups were Christians who prayed rather fervently for the Cedi and in many instances renowned church leaders even sought to spiritually command the Cedi to rise. When over a decade ago, the country was going through power challenges due to low water levels in the Akosombo dam, people went there to pray.

Whether or not these prayers yielded results, is best left for the historians and economists to debate. A new government has taken over the reins of power in Ghana. This was after ceaseless cries about economic hardships, mismanagement of the power sector and the economy, corruption and unemployment. This new government won the mandate of Ghanaians based on very ambitious manifesto promises, what the governing party at the time thought were 'wild promises'.

Some of these promises included each of the 275 constituencies in Ghana receiving a boost of $1 million per annum and a factory each for all the 216 districts. There were promises of tax and utility tariff cuts among many others. With a 110 strong team of ministers and their deputies, the largest the nation has ever seen, the Nana Akufo Addo government seems ready to take off. But the task indeed is herculean and daunting and perhaps even insurmountable by mere mortals therefore God, who is "a prayer answering God" has sent his word of prophesy through the Charismatic Bishop's Conference to the people of Ghana, words of socio-economic liberation and development.

Ghana on 6th March marked 60 years since Kwame Nkrumah, the man who proclaimed that "the black man was capable of handling his own affairs" declared the nation "free forever". The 'prophetic' theme for the celebration was "Mobilising for Ghana's future".

The Prophecy and the Debate

Still in that spirit of mobilising for Ghana's future, the Charismatic Bishop's Conference issued a communique to the President and his team outlining four areas God wants the president to pay attention to; Road Infrastructure, Education, Agriculture and Security. In their communique they indicated that "The Lord's prophetic word to... the government and leadership of our nation is that, "It is time to govern and lead our nation in a new way! The old ways have been tried and tested for sixty years. It is clear that the old ways are not working."

Should the church not be paying taxes to government? It is time that debate was revisited. The fear is that as one religion begins or even seems to gain dominance over others in a secular state, the stage could be set for many undesirable outcomes.

No attempt is being made here to challenge, or even pretend to appraise the ideas as have been posited by the most venerable men of God notwithstanding their explicit caution "Do Not Scoff at This Wisdom". The debate of how much interference religion should have in secular states such as Ghana has never been quelled. In the past few weeks a lot has happened which seems to have reawakened the debate. If I were asked whether or not religious influences should be entertained in the running of the state, I would reckon that it should be a matter of representation, balance and of degree. But again, the church must pay taxes!

President Akufo Addo cut sod for the construction of a National Cathedral for Christians, a development that has generated much public uproar and a few law suits. A member of Ghana's founding political party, the Convention People's Party (CPP), James Kwabena Bomfeh who opposes the development, is at the Supreme Court over government's decision. He is seeking "a declaration that the decision of the Government of Ghana to purposely endorse, assist, aid, partly sponsor, and/or support the construction of a National Cathedral for Christian interdenominational church services amounts to an excessive entanglement of the Republic of Ghana and religion and therefore unconstitutional".

Also he wants, "a declaration that the setting up of a Hajj Board by the Government... is unconstitutional." The Hajj Board was set up by government to coordinate, support and/or aid the the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca. In what may appear as a show of solidarity more than anything else, The PRO of the National Hajj Board, A. R Gomda, speaking to the local media described as strange, calls for the government to disassociate itself from religious activities including the annual Hajj pilgrimage for Muslims in the country.

Ghana by its constitution is a secular state. But legal opinions on the subject have been as divided as the general public opinion. To the crux of the issues however, is it wrong for the state to use its resources in building such an infrastructure as a cathedral especially where the church does not pay taxes to the government? When the government decided to set up the Hajj Board, there was not much reservation, not even when it facilitated the building of a national mosque for the country by the Turks. Why is the case different with the building of a Christian cathedral? Note however that Ghanaians are predominantly Christian.

Should the church not be paying taxes to government? It is time that debate was revisited. The fear is that as one religion begins or even seems to gain dominance over others in a secular state, the stage could be set for many undesirable outcomes. The metaphorical wall between state and church must be forged. It must however, be borne in mind that religion cannot be evicted from the state and shouldn't even be attempted.

A secular state also does not mean suggestions from religious fraternities should be ignored especially if they are plausible. And, if I were asked whether or not religious influences should be entertained in the running of the state, I would reckon that it should be a matter of representation, balance and of degree. But again, the church must pay taxes!