Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, Rt Hon Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has charged Members of Parliament (MPs) to take steps to promote tolerance for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in the country.
According to him, MPs do not only have the people voices but have the legal authority to develop a legal framework that would help to denounce religious discrimination and guarantee the right to religious freedom for all individuals.
He added that, such a legal framework would also provide some of the public funding institutions responsibilities, especially in the context of elementary and secondary education.
Rt Hon Bagbin made the call at a ceremony to launch the Ghana chapter of Africa Parliamentarians Association for Human Rights (AfriPAHR) Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) on Monday, November 13, 2023, in Accra.
AfriPAHR is the association of Parliamentarians that advocates and promotes Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), a human right project been led by the Africa Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA).
While encouraging the MPs and the stakeholders to maintain the advocacy, Rt Hon Bagbin cited the recent tension between religious groups and school regulations as testament to the urgent need of a regulatory framework.
In his considered view, such interferance by school in religious freedoms of students, including prohibiting Muslim students from fasting and wearing vails had highlighted the need for a comprehensive framework that guaranteed the rights of all students, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
For instance, he said the two Rastafarian students who were asked to cut their dreadlocks before being admitted to the Achimota School was a complete infringement of freedom.of religion and belief.
“Although this is a sensitive topic, we cannot shy away from these difficult and controversial discussions, if we want to move forward and create a society that respects everyone’s right to practise his or her religion.
“The proposed framework, which has been under development since 2021, is a crucial step towards ensuring that every student has access to education without compromising their religious convictions,” he said.
The Speaker noted that it was about time the stakeholders work together to address the difference in religious matters to build a brighter future for the country.
The Speaker said the 1992 Constitution has unequivocally denounced religious discrimination and guaranteed the right to religious freedom for all individuals and for which reason MPs must have the interest t in harnessing peace in the country.
“A just and egalitarian society that values diversity and mutual respect is the foundation of progress.
“That is why our national education curriculum includes a mandatory religious and moral education course for every child in Ghana,” he said.
Nonetheless, Rt Hon Bagbin said the continued coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Ghana is remarkable, reflecting how the mutual respect and synergy had become a true testament to the unity of their beliefs.
“Witnessing an Imam attending a church event and gospel ministers donating food items to the Chief Imam during the Muslim fast is heartwarming.
“This example of religious tolerance and coexistence should be emulated worldwide. It is a lesson for all of us and something to be proud of,” the Speaker added.
The Speaker commended the MPs for taking the voluntary steps to lead the way and urged Ghanaians to embrace their differences and refrain from imposing their beliefs on others.
“We must bear in mind that having the freedom to practice one’s religion does not automatically grant us the right and liberty to ridicule the beliefs of others.
“We must respect the diversity of faiths and acknowledge that each one has its value and significance.
“We should strive to create an environment where everyone can freely choose their path,” he advised.
The FoRB Caucus inauguration which was organised by the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs and its partners, brought together some parliamentarians and religious leaders from
The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Malawi, were similar bodies that took the lead and have been inaugurated.
The Executive Director of the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs, Dr Rasheed Draman, explained that a few years ago, religious tolerance had been slipping through the hands of a number of countries.
According to him, religious intolerance had led some countries into conflicts which should have been avoided.
He cited, for instance, how some people in Nigeria had turned religious intolerance into a force for extreme destruction, with it’s attendance consequences.
Dr Draman said, “we thought of our honourable MPs taking the lead in these efforts. Accompanied by faith leaders and other civil society actors, our society will be one of tolerance.”
Hon Suleman Adamu Sanid, Chairman for the Ghana FoRB Caucus said the caucus would bring together interested Members of Parliament to work with faith leaders, civil society organisations and other bodies to promote a peaceful and tolerant society.
He said the absence of religion tolerance could lead to conflict and as lawmakers they must be interested in ensuring that the laws they made are accommodating enough to discriminate any group of persons.
There were solidarity messages from the National Peace Council, the Office of the National Chief Imam, the Christian Council, the Humanity Group, among others.
The Speaker of Parliament and other participants signed the Accra Charter on FoRB.
The FoRB project is being organised by ACEPA with support from the Norwegian Government.
The African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA) is an African not-for-profit organization registered in Ghana. It is dedicated to building the capacity of African Parliaments and elected representative bodies at all levels of governance.
ACEPA supports African countries in ensuring effective performance throughout the governance chain – from local to national representative institutions.
Since it’s formation, ACEPA has excellent working relationships with more than 20 African countries Parliaments and its dedicated staff have more than 40 years combined work experience with Parliaments and Legislative institutions in Africa.
ACEPA, in partnership with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFORB), through a collaborative partnership with the African Parliamentarians’ Association for Human Rights (AfriPAHR) and the Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN), is implementing a project entitled “The Support to
IPPFORB to advance issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa”.
The project aims to advance issues of democracy and human rights, including Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) on the African continent and create awareness on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) issues by keeping members of African parliamentarians’ network abreast with happenings on the continent and around the globe through face to face, virtual meetings and workshops.
The project is being implemented in Ghana and Malawi and the objectives of the Launchi Ng is to establish a Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB, a network of FORB stakeholders and build active membership and as well establish clear channels of communication between the Secretariat (ACEPA) and caucus members.