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Why not “President’s Day”? or “National Religion Day”?

By. Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh 

 

One way to get Liberians talking is when the topic is either about religion or politics, in a country where Christianity is a state-sanctioned religion; and every Liberian, once upon a time, was a member of the True Whig Party.

Politics and religion will get Liberians talking because some are passionate about the issues. Others who claimed to love politics and religion have their own venues – social settings or nightclubs where they want to discuss everything supposedly wrong with Liberia and a particular president, and how that president should run their country.

Not surprising of course, is the fact that many of these individuals have no interests in families left behind; and will not dare attend community monthly meetings either in their respective cities in the United States. Interestingly, the individuals are always looking for free parties (invited, or not invited) on weekends to have fun and discuss political events about their country.

The tragedy of the civil war brought God closer to some, and the idea of going to bed hungry, living in infested fields, refugee camps, or losing a loved one or a body part got many Liberians to embrace God for salvation, comfort, peace of mind and a passport to heaven.

My fellow countrymen and women who thinks their religion – the Christian faith is under attack are quick to aggressively or emotionally remind the other side that “Liberia was founded on Christians principles,” as such, “Liberia is a Christian nation.”

These individuals – the “pious” ones wearing the emotional cross of Christ on their sleeves are quick to call others “devils,” and are also quick to tell the other person “you are going to hell,” an intellectually lazy way to engage the other person in an intellegent debate.

The belief that “Liberia was founded on Christian principles” sound like a chorus from a hymnal because I’ve heard that tone countless times. The phrase also seems like one coming from an American conservative debate scrapbook (since Liberians are known to copy everything from the Americans).

The argument from the other side is old and worn out, but seems to hold true because of the way successive Liberian despotic presidents ran the country in the name of Christianity.

The Liberian presidents exploited politically, and promoted Christianity from the narrow lense of Article I of the 1847 Constitution, part of which acknowledges “with devout gratitude, the goodness of God, in granting to us the blessings of the Christian religion.”

Part of that behavior could also be attributed to the fact that 40 percent of the Liberian population called themselves Christians, while Muslims, according to the 2008 CIA-World Fact book comprised 20 percent of the population, with indigenous beliefs about 40 percent.

Article 14 of the revised 1984 Liberian Constitution also states: “No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike.” And further states: “Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no State religion.”

Article 14 of the same revised 1984 Constitution is clear and compelling in its interpretation, and a sensible way to maintain the peace and cooperation that exists between the religions, which has gotten along over the years without being dragged into a religious war as it is in other countries.

The state-sanctioned idea of promoting the Christian religion over other religions has got non-Christians and those of the Islamic faith to feel out of place, even as Liberians everywhere strives to build a peaceful society that is respectful and inclusive of all faiths.

With Christian holidays such as Fast and Prayer Day celebrated on the 2nd Friday in April; Good Friday, April 17; Thanksgiving Day, 1st Thursday in November; Christmas, December 25,” and obviously recognized as (national) holidays; while Christian prayers and Biblical studies are allowed and taught in public schools, gave rise to the frustration of Liberian Muslims who are lobbying to have President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sign Legislation to make the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan a national holiday in Liberia.

That certainly is a reasonable request in the name of fairness, especially at a time when the government is seen promoting one religion over the other in a diverse country such as Liberia.

While the argument about fairness is the right call, it is appalling to note that some Liberians are not calling to get rid of those ubiquitous government-sanctioned national religious holidays, but are attempting to choke the national calendar with more national religious holidays that hold no true meaning to other Liberians who do not fall into any of the religious groups.

And instead of showing leadership, the current president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and past Liberian presidents failed to genuinely bring the different groups together to love, trust and accept the other side.

Interestingly, Liberian presidents who are known to exploit and manipulate the genuine sentiments of those of the Islamic faith often gave away bags of rice, and often pay the fares for some to attend the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca.

Nation-building is not only about infrastructure development, but also about inclusiveness, tolerance, respect, changing laws, and correcting what needs to be corrected to heal old wounds.

The Republic of Liberia cannot be taken seriously, or the current President just cannot continue to claim to be building Liberia to be prosperous and competitive when the birthday of the dictator, William V. S. Tubman continues to be celebrated as a national holiday, and a national soccer stadium is named after the brutal dictator, Samuel Kanyon Doe.

I wrote in a previous column in The Liberian Dialogue years ago that Liberia does not need to celebrate the visionless, painful and embarrassingly corrupt birthday of William V. S. Tubman, or any Liberian president.

However, instead of a particular Liberian leader insisting on celebrating their birthday or the birthday of his or her counterpart as a national holiday, the law should be changed to “President’s Day” in honor of all former Liberian presidents, and “National Religion Day” to reflect all the nation’s religions.

 

 

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