Trouble with religious freedom


The best antidote to religious abuse is education, media literacy, and helping people to recognise the manipulative behaviour they are using. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

When I think of my childhood in the village some of my fond memories are of how much freedom we had when going to church. And how religion allowed us to be conscious of our beliefs and opinions.

The Constitution of Kenya reaffirms this in Section 32 of the Bill of Rights sub-section, which states: "Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, in public or in private, to manifest any religion or belief through worship, practice, teaching or observance, including observance of a day of worship."

It would be great if there were no manipulative persons who would take advantage of the legal provisions and the vulnerability of poor people in our society.

And this is happening daily, but we fail to speak out. As a result, so many people are suffering under the yoke of the so-called redeemers of God's people.

And we see it as a fundamental right to practice religion freely, and it should be protected from government intrusion.

But with the issues that are coming out concerning religion, especially in Kenya, the question which is coming out is: What should the government do to protect its people?

The horrifying images from the Kilifi starvation cult's deeds are a wake-up call even to start looking at the impact of technology on religion.

A paper published by scholar Gehan Gunatilleke in the Human Rights Review two years ago further explores this.

It says freedom of expression is vital to our ability to convey opinions, convictions, and beliefs and meaningfully participate in democracy.

But, according to him, the state may 'limit' the freedom of expression on specific grounds, such as national security, public order, public health, and public morals.

As you read this article, it's crucial to remember that not all religious groups are harmful and that many people find meaning and fellowship in their religious convictions.

My objective, therefore, is first to precipitate debate about formalising a self-regulatory mechanism of religious groups and to create awareness of the strategies employed by cults such that society can exercise caution around any organisation that requires unquestioning submission or promotes harmful behaviour.

Regulating religious groups by governments or through self-regulation is complicated and divisive. And might be potentially harmful or abusive to religious institutions.

But on the other hand, we keep seeing how certain religious institutions have been seen to encourage unethical practices. In these situations, laws could aid in preventing these detrimental effects.

The right of the citizen is always a priority. We can borrow from the global public health concerns on Covid-19 when almost all governments restricted people's freedoms in 2020.

Therefore, deciding whether or not to regulate involves striking a balance between opposing interests and ideals, such as religious freedom, public safety, and individual rights.

However, considering numerous factors, any conversation or decision about regulating religion must be handled carefully and wisely.

The challenge, therefore, is whether people will accept treating danger to public safety as they do with a threat to public health.

As such, we watch scoundrels disguised as God's representatives on earth steal and lie to people that fasting to death is the gateway to heaven.

Religious cults are known for their ability to manipulate and control their members, often convincing them to do things that are harmful to themselves or others.

Some tactics include manipulating emotions, isolating their members from family and friends who might challenge the groups and offering false hope such as promising their members salvation and enlightenment.

Should these kinds of people be stopped?

Gunatilleke adds that when individual conduct concerns the freedom of expression, the State's burden to justify the restriction on such behaviour must demonstrate that the individual involved owes others a duty of justice to refrain from engaging in the conduct.

How will someone owe anyone the duty of justice if he/she believes or mischievously thinks that death takes you to heaven?

The best antidote to religious abuse is education, media literacy, and helping people to recognise the manipulative behaviour they are using. For example, in Europe, they benefited from education and scientific advancements.

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