In an editorial from the weekend of 20th April 2024 in the Monitor newspaper, the writer attempted to put forward a case under the title, “Speed up the Regulation of Churches, Mosques.” While a myriad of articles to this effect have been churned out in this very newspaper pages pushing for the regulation of religious organizations, all the justifications given fall flat-faced on interrogation.

In just this one editorial, the writer for example says the national religious and faith organizations’ policy is in its consultative stage, and in the process of seeking views and opinions to aid the streamlining of churches and mosques. At the same time, s/he mentions that religious leaders are opposed to the policy because they feel it infringes upon their freedom of worship. The editorial winds up by saying that this policy is going to be seen through to the end at all costs. The question here is, is this consultation process a sincere search for views and opinions, or is it a rubberstamp for an end that has already been pre-determined?

This same narrative is being portrayed across other media reports. A similar story appeared in another popular newspaper where the Permanent Secretary of the Ethics Ministry is reported to have said, ‘no one is going to stop the government.” He was reacting to opposition after his submission at ameeting that took place at Miracle Centre Cathedral that was chaired by Pastor Robert Kayanja. One wonders then; Surely are the promoters of the policy genuinely seeking the views of stakeholders? If yes, why aren’t they taking the views and feedback of the religious leaders into consideration? Why are they hostile when contrary responses are given? And if they are not interested in their views, what’s the point in pretending to seek them?

The editorial pointed out that the policy is a legal framework that will guide the activities of religious and faith organizations (RFOs). However, the argument that policy makers are missing is that freedom is not freedom if it has to be guided under a set of prearranged rules and regulations. The nation already has laws that govern all Ugandans. These laws are well-able to stop any crimes committed in RFOs the same way they do for other Ugandans in other walks of life. There is no need for laws specific to RFOs unless there are ulterior motives.

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When giving examples of crimes that can be committed by RFOs, a public interest lawyer going by the names, Cissy Ssempa, at a recent Twitter Space on the subject, said that what if an RFO decides that girls of 5 years can be married off. However, this example is irrelevant since we have an existing law on early marriages and defilement. Other common examples given as crimes that have been committed by RFO leaders relate to religious groupings like Kibwetere from Western Uganda, and the Shakahola incident from Kenya, where masses were led to their demise by religious leaders.

However, Uganda had a massacre of November, 2020 right under the watch of this government on the streets of Kampala. Unfortunately, none of these policy pushers are willing to acknowledge that this crime and many others that continue to take place, are not committed by RFO leaders. The likes of Kibwetere and the said Kenyan Pastor, have been pursued, while the murderers of Ugandans on the streets of Kampala, are walking scot-free with no intention to bring them to book. It is true that two wrongs do not make a right. But it is also true that we have existing laws for murderers that for starters, the government is failing to implement for the November, 2020 incident.

The writer of this editorial goes on to use the noise pollution from Churches near each other moreover in residential areas, as an example of an existing menace that needs to be dealt with. However, a law on noise pollution for any entity, whether a bar, mosque or Church, should suffice. We do not need laws or regulations specific to RFOs because, that would put forward a position where the freedom of operation for RFOs is curtailed.

There was a very ignorant submission in the article, obviously distilled from the draft policy, where there is a call to establish an organized way for religious institutions to effectively contribute to national development. Quite laughable! Clearly, the government is seeking to impose itself and its agendas on the RFOs! How do you tell an RFO that you did not participate in formulating, that they should participate in national development? Was that the objective of their worship? Are you now seeking to divert them from worshipping the way they please. Well and good, if an RFO has national development as one of its objectives, but what if their form of worship does not speak to contributing to national development? Most importantly, a government that collects taxes from the population seems to be looking to pass the baton to RFOs, after failing to fulfill its mandate to Ugandans, of developing the nation!

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The other two bogus arguments mentioned in this editorial are; that of building the integrity in these institutions, and, addressing the issue of who should start a Church. First of all, the government has failed to build integrity in its own institutions, how will they build integrity in RFOs. Besides, what if the interference of government in the integrity issues of an RFO tantamounts to toying with their freedom of worship? Lastly, freedom of worship means that an RFO that feels its leaders should be trained should do so, while that where followers feel that anyone is capable according to their inhouse criteria, should also be free.

In a nutshell, a government that has failed to apprehend the perpetrators of the November, 2020 massacre of Ugandans in broad daylight, a government that has failed to ensure the integrity of its own institutions, and a government that has been entrusted by Ugandans but has failed to give accountability, cannot be asking institutions whose mandate is worship, for what it has failed to deliver. Different from government, RFOs are not voted in power. Followers do so willingly. Forcing RFOs to behave like government institutions is a case of government overstepping its boundaries and self-importance. Far be it!

Agnes Namaganda

Human Rights Activist/Politician

The post AGNES NAMAGANDA: Existing Laws are sufficient to regulate Churches, Mosques appeared first on Watchdog Uganda.


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