Whereas majority Ugandans may have been led to believe that the religious societies and Places of Worship Bill (religious policy) has been tucked away by the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity, the truth is, there is still some underground work going on.
Contrary to the rhetoric that the policy is meant to protect the public from fraudulent individuals hiding behind religious cloak while fleecing them of their money, the truth is that the policy is meant to curtail religious freedoms in the country; to the extent that one may not be able to address a cell home fellowship and say “Jesus loves you,” lest one has a licence. The alternative being a five- year imprisonment.
Part of the criteria laid out for one to obtain a licence as a religious leader is the “fit and proper” test. This, here, is an adaptation from the Financial Laws of Uganda. This would mean that a former convict or a person adjudged bankrupt cannot be licensed as a religious leader. So people like the Biblical Saul turned Paul would never have been entrusted with spiritual affairs had they lived today.
But the criteria was different then. When the early church sought men to serve tables, the prerequisite was baptism in the Holy Spirit. Since when has the Church had to heed to worldly standards for guidance on its operations? What happened to leaving to Caesar what belongs to him, and giving to God what belongs to God?
Hide and seek aside, it is clear from an in-depth analysis of this Bill that the Inter-Religious Council and the Minister of Ethics and Integrity are greatly behind this piece of work. If not, the various clauses would not have emphasised the need to consult the aforementioned parties. This largely fans suspicion that in fronting this legislation, they are targeting a specified group of individuals that they are not comfortable with.
What is even more ridiculous about the Bill is the provision for objections to registration or grant of a licence to a society or an individual, who wishes to obtain one, in case a member of the public or the bureau objects on “reasonable grounds”. This is a subjective test – as to what amounts to “reasonable grounds” - that is as impracticable as requiring a husband to obtain permission from his wife before he can marry a second wife.
Whereas the Bill is purported to be drafted in the spirit of legally acceptable limitations on rescindable rights such as the right to religious freedom, a closer look at this bill reveals that these are not mere limitations but violations of the right at its roots. Moreover, international courts have gone ahead to hold that states should not, under the guise of limitations on derogable rights, go ahead to limit the right itself at its roots.
That I should require a licence before I address people on religious matters, or profess my spirituality is an infringement. That some bureau should instruct us on how to worship, who to worship as God, how to spend tithe and offertories and how to run the day-to-day affairs of a spiritual organisation is foolery.
That I have to first obtain approval from the bureau and the general public before I can practise my spiritual affairs is unconstitutional and irrational. Above all, that all matters pertaining to spirituality are expected to be known by some self-imposed council is extremely abhorrent.
This policy is one which if passed, will not only curtail religious freedom to its root, but will also boomerang on the minister of Ethics and Integrity and all those hiding behind him to front this.
Ms Tendo is a lawyer