Sunday, November 11, 2012

Involvement of religious groups in education

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 11 November 2012

The Kenyan Constitution, like any other negotiated document, is decidedly vague in some parts, and apparently contradictory in others. Different interest groups were involved in several stages of its writing, and their fingerprints are all over the document.

Despite the largely liberal tone of the original drafts centred on individual liberties, the final document became an ideological hodgepodge meant to satisfy the loudest interest groups. However, for a document written largely by Harambee, it is remarkable that the original spirit of the citizen managed to shine through despite the best efforts of those that would stifle freedoms and keep the citizen encumbered by opinions masquerading as fact.

In order not to disturb the delicate balance of beliefs and traditions in our country, the final draft was conciliatory to the various cultures, and even deferred to religious organisations, promising respect for all religions and cultures, and freedom of worship for the individual. However, vestiges of the original intent to fashion and maintain a truly secular society remain, as encapsulated in Article 8 of our Constitution: “There shall be no State religion”.

At only six words, this is perhaps the shortest complete article in our Constitution. Its brevity probably encapsulates the uncertainty in the minds of the drafters of the document, as to what the actual will of Kenyans was on this matter. A plain reading would suggest that the State shall not promote any one religion and, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that religion is outlawed in the corridors of state.

Were the government to take the path of equality of religions, promoting all religions equally, there would be no space enough to hold all the religious groups that would want to be involved in State activities.
The Kavonokya sect that prefers its children to die of preventable illnesses in the name of God would occupy pride of place at the same level as the Catholic Church and Islam.

The Naivasha doomsday sect whose members buried themselves underground in anticipation of a nuclear catastrophe would be represented wherever the Anglican Church is found in a State function or institution. To avoid this sense of entitlement from every sect and denomination, and in order to remain faithful to Article 8, the only rational thing for government to do would be to avoid entanglement with any religious organisation.

This brings us to the hue and cry about provisions in the Education Bill allowing the government to control all instruction in schools, whether public or private.

Religious organisations have argued that they have a right to provide religious instruction in their own institutions without government oversight. The wisdom of this argument is up for debate, given the role of any responsible government in protecting children from potentially unwholesome teaching that may interfere with their normal development.

However, the more interesting demand from the religious lobby is that they would like to have representation on State education boards and institutions. One suspects that this would run afoul of Article 8, as it may constitute promotion of religion, creating de facto “State religions”.

It will, therefore, be useful for both the religious lobbies and the government to examine more carefully the meaning of this brief constitutional injunction before discussing the role of religious organisations in the education of Kenyan children and youth. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

1 comment:

  1. Your's is a train of thought aptly directed in divergent directions. Wading way out your mazed path of ideas numbs the mind, yet it's fertile fodder for thought. The marital disunion of convenience between state, politics, religion and men collar down history is littered with pockets of dissent, war, rebellion, murder,love and loss. Then, what is happening and will stay at our east corner of Africa will predictably follow a given route. The state, constitution and thinkers of your irk will suggest all matters religion tight locked and hidden behind the facade of huge church and mosque doors. The reach of the pulpit will be expected to extend not further than the 1-2 hours time slots that faithfuls frequent the houses of worship on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Beyond these, in that state where “There shall be no State religion” the dictates of the esteemed constitution shall then guide all ways of men. The doctor in the hospital,the teacher scribbling chalk into the board, the lawyer incarcerating misfits to the dungeons, the farmer, truck driver; their daily ethical and moral compass shall then be "The constitution"

    Everyone definitely needs the constitution, no exception whatsoever. But that religion, politics, government are so intertwined, it begs a thought like yours that how far either encroaches into the other. If at our corner of the world we solve that question, we might just be the flame that lights the rest of the world.


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