EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Gambian Christian organisations governing body –Gambia Christian Council- has released a 20-point position paper that it observed as omission of secular and related matters in the country’s draft constitution.
At a press conference at the Council secretariat on Tuesday, the country’s Christian denominations say in December last year, the submitted their contribution to the CRC regarding the provisions they wanted to be incorporated into the new constitution and suggested amendments and additions to the provisions of the current 1997 constitution.
The Gambia Christian Council is a fellowship of churches and Christian organizations that worship one God in the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; accept as scriptures the Holy Bible comprising the Old and the New Testament; have an established organization that teaches the Christian way of life and exercises discipline; are prepared to encourage their members to participate in ecumenical activities.
Gabriel Mendy, Bishop of Banjul who presented the twenty-point position said since the process of the draft constitution consultation, they have organised workshops to review its various sections, saying the views in the position paper represent the views of the entire Christians in the country. “Muslims and Christians have been living together. This has been going on for generations and have been the legacy for religious tolerance,” he said.
He said as a minority group, Christians have experienced series of unfair treatment from the former regime and now they are demanding that CRC honour it’s mandate as enshrine in section 6 sub-section 2 of its Act.
“The GCC acknowledges the fact that Section 47 of the draft constitution maintains freedom of conscience which interalia includes freedom of religion, a similar to section 25 of the current 1997 constitution.”
Bishop Mendy said they understand that both proposed provisions in section 47 and 151(2) (b) are among the entrenched clauses of the draft constitution which cannot be easily amended by the National Assembly without subjecting it to a referendum.
He said going by those provisions, it appears that it will be difficult to pass a law establishing any religion as a state religion in The Gambia. “Despite similar position and entrenched clauses, Gambia was declared Islamic republic by former President Yahya Jammeh in 2015. Non-Muslim female working in the civil service were forced to wear veils and Jammeh’s move was supported by The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council and Banjul Muslim elders,” he said.
The Council’s twenty-point position included the advocacy for the insertion of the word ‘Secular’ in the draft constitution, all religions to be respected and treated equal, Shari’ah to be only applicable to Muslims, proposed Shari’ah high court to be removed and Khadi courts to be maintained, no state funds to be use to enhance any religious activity, full age of women to marry be 18 years and section 66 under gender balance to include women, persons with disability, youth and the minority.
Bishop Mendy said the last seven years has been a testing period for Gambia Christians ranging from encroaching on their lands demarcated as cemetery for burials, wearing of veils in Christian run schools, declaring The Gambia an Islamic State, threats to close down the Christian cemetery in Banjul and the invitation of the Indian Islamic scholar, Dr Zakir Naik who publicly made some critical remarks about Christianity.
“GCC is aware that there are some people who are attributing the word secular to irreligious. This is not what GCC is advocating for. We are not against religion and the use of religious symbols,” he said.
He said they have the firm believe and conviction that every Gambian should advocate for peace, saying one of the main causes of conflicts around the world center on religious and ethnic lines. “Let us teach for peace in the hearts and minds of our minority.
Gambia Christian Council chairperson, Rt Revd James Allen Yaw Odico said if Muslims claim to be the majority, they should learn to respect the minority. Being the majority does not mean that should be use to undermined the minority.
He said the constitution must be something that is for all, saying the fact that the word “Secular” was not in the 1997 constitution does not mean should not be in this one. Let the Shari’ah law be for the Muslims to govern their affairs.
“We are not against the Shari’ah law, what we are saying is let me be taken out of the constitution. Let our own religious values guide our actions and not finding themselves in the constitution,” he said.