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Church Leaders' Statement on the Constitutional Debate

 

Church Leaders' Statement on the Constitutional Debate
 
1 December 1995
 
 

In this follow-up Statement, to the ‘Call for Legitimising the Zambian Constitution’ that was co-signed by the three Christian Church mother bodies, the Christian Council of Zambia and the Zambia Episcopal Conference, went further to point out the actual contentious issues emanating from the work of the Mwanakatwe Review Commission. The Church leaders took the opportunity to reiterate their opposition to the declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation finding its way into the constitution. As far as they were concerned this was adequately catered for in the Bill of Rights (Part III) of the Constitution that deals with the various rights and freedoms, among them is the freedom of worship and conscience.

Introduction

    We have listened to the debates, which have been going on since the publication of the Mwanakatwe Constitution Review Report. The growing interest in the constitution is a healthy development, and a sign of the Nation's commitment to democracy. However debates in the press and on radio and television are not enough. The Constitution affects the lives of all Zambian citizens, and it ought to be discussed at all levels of society. Well-informed discussion will lead to the new constitution eventually acquiring the wide popular support, which it will need if it is to stand the test of time. For people to form a mature judgement on the issue involved, they need proper information. We therefore feel that the Mwanakatwe Constitutional Review Report should be widely circulated and possibly translated into the main vernacular languages.
  1. We are deeply concerned about several key issues such as:
    • The Mode of Adoption of the Constitution
    • The Bill of Rights
    • The qualifications for Presidency
    • The separation of powers to ensure checks and balances
    • The independence of investigative Commissions
    • The inclusion of the Statement declaring Zambia a Christian Nation in the preamble to the Constitution.
  2. We urge these sensitive issues be given wider debate and consultation. Therefore we call upon the Government to postpone tabling the white paper on the Draft Constitution in Parliament. The constitutional debate should be de-linked from the forthcoming elections. This will allow for a wider, in-depth discussion of the Constitution throughout all sections of Zambian society.

  3. If such wider consultation is not permitted, we fear that the authoritative status of the constitution could be lessened. Its legitimacy as the fundamental law of the Zambian people might even be called into question. If the new Constitution is rushed through parliament without taking the time necessary for the people of Zambia to consider all the issues, it is unlikely to last any longer than its predecessors. Such a rush would be incompatible with the democratic principles of the Third Republic.

  4. As Church leaders, we appreciate the concern of the MMD Government that Christian values should guide the affairs of the Nation. This includes an increased commitment to honesty, hard work, justice and concern for the poor. We also appreciate the expression of tolerance for all other religions that has been repeatedly expressed by the Government.

  5. However we do not agree with the position in the Government's White paper that the preamble to the Constitution should state that Zambia is a Christian Nation. Rather, we accept the position expressed by the report of the Mwanakatwe commission that the rights of "Christianity or any other religion could be safely secured without any form of declaration" (see the report by Government printers 3.5) Zambia should not adopt a State religion or give Christianity a privileged constitutional recognition.

  6. We have this position for a number of reasons:
    • Although Christianity may be the religion of the majority of Zambians, there are nevertheless many dedicated Zambians who profess other faiths. The constitution of the Country belongs as fully to these citizens as it does to those who profess Christianity. No loop-hole should be left which might, at some future date, lead to non Christian Zambians being regarded as second-class citizens, or even excluded from public office.
    • Freedom of worship and religion is sufficiently safe-guarded in the current constitution. Any new Constitution must maintain the same safeguards. Freedom of conscience in religious matters is a fundamental human right.
    • It is the duty of Government to protect this fundamental human right. There is a danger of division in the Nation when specific religious beliefs are accorded privileged status or preferential treatment.
    • Authentic religious practice will not be fostered by this declaration. It could lead to the abuse of religion forpurely political ends, and even bring discredit on the name ‘Christian’. Abuses, which could potentially arise, include the encouragement of prejudices against non-Christian, political use of the Declaration to favour one party over another, an increase in religious intolerance, and even the inflaming of conflicts similar to those, which haunted European countries for centuries.
    • We believe that neither the majority of the citizens of Zambia, nor even the majority of Christians in Zambia, wish to have such a declaration associated with the Constitution of the Country. Implicit evidence of this is already found in the Mwanakatwe report, which noted, "the majority of petitioners did not in fact favour the provision in the Constitution making Zambia a Christian Nation".

  7. If Zambia is to be a Christian Nation, we strongly believe that this will come about, not by reason of a declaration or by a statement in the Constitution, but by reason of Christians living their faith to the fullest. Here the Churches have an important role to play. They need to promote among the citizens the strictly non-partisan virtues of political responsibility and accountability. They should also foster honesty, hard work, concern for the poor and commitment to the common good.

  8. The Christian Churches will promote the democratic institutions of our Government, and support the building up of a genuinely democratic spirit throughout the Country. This will contribute greatly toward ensuring that Christianity remains a living reality in Zambia, and does not simply become a political slogan or a religious motto.

1st December 1995

Signed:

Bishop T.G. Mpundu , Chairman (Zambia Episcopal Conference)
Bishop Clement H. Shaba (Christian Council of Zambia)