KAMPALA - Government should stop plans towards oppression of religious freedoms using among other means, pending policy legislation to control faith, conscience and belief of Ugandans, a group of petitioners have demanded.
“Rather than taking the destructive historical path of state control and restraint reminiscent of banning of Evangelical and Pentecostal faith entities in the 1970’s, we implore the government through this petition to adhere to the post 1995 constitutional governance dispensation that embraces diversity and religious freedom within the confines of acceptable regulation,” read part of the petition delivered to the directorate of Ethics and Integrity under the President’s office on Wednesday.
But director of religious affairs at the directorate Rev Can Aaron Mwesigye said they weren’t seeking to control faith-based organizations in the country, but to develop a framework guiding the organizations’ operations.
Article 29 (c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, provides for freedom of worship and expression. But the freedoms are not isolated, he said.
“The policy is not intended to prohibit this right as enshrined under the constitution, but to provide policy guidelines for effective operations of religious and faith based organizations.
“That is why we are using a consultative approach. These people who are petitioning haven’t come to any of our (consultative) meetings,” the director said.
He said the directorate, which is mandated to coordinate and monitor faith based-organizations in the country to promote harmony, also needed to protect citizens against manipulation by some of “these organizations”.
Late last year, the directorate of ethics and integrity announced it was developing a religious and faith-based organizations policy to make more efficient the organizations.
Among the various justifications for the policy, the ministry said “there is significant disharmony within and among the RFBOs, lack of accountability and transparency in the management of RFBOs, if not mitigated, will lead to insecurity, and gross exploitation or manipulation of the citizens.”
The directorate also said “the increasing number of RFBOs and the sensitivity and the suspicious nature of their affairs” necessitated the policy.
But addressing media at the Kampala Serena Hotel yesterday, principal petitioner Joseph Kabuleta said the directorate’s reasons weren’t justification enough to “oppress and stifle freedoms of religion, worship and conscience.”
“As stake holders, persons of faith and citizens of Uganda, we believe the move to enact this policy is not well intentioned and could potentially be used to discriminate against those who ‘seem’ not to be in the eyes of acceptable standards of a religious faith organization,” journalist turned church minister at the Watchman Ministry said.
“The state needs to leave matters of the church and religion alone. It is seeking a big brother role. But our constitution does not allow it.
“People have been criticizing the pastor of the ‘holy rice’ and ‘holy water’. But if a Pope can bless rosaries and they become Holy, why can’t a pastor bless rice or water?
“The world over, and since time immemorial, church ministers survive on contributions from their flock. Why is the jury out so hard on some (Pentecostal) churches and not others?” the church minister said.
Kabuleta said he had collected over 1000 signatures of individuals who did not want the policy. He did not reveal any of their names.
But a parishioner at Mbuya Catholic Church Deogratius Mwanje said he didn’t mind a policy as long as it didn’t “dictate” where individuals can go to worship or influence what was taught in church.
Last month, the born again federation in Uganda welcomed the policy.
Publicist Pastor Charles Tumwine said the federation was looking forward to facilitating its development.
“It is a shame that some of us (pastors) are using the holy word to amass lots of wealth while the sheep they shepherd are wallowing in poverty. We need to change all this,” he said.
The PRO condemned “misleading” teachings and bible verse interpretations.
State minister for ethics and integrity, the Rev Fr. Simon Lokodo said he had received the petition, but that it was based on a wrong assumption.
“We are responding to a pertinent issue. When the NGO Board policy was reviewed, they said they didn’t want to have faith-based organizations. So, they (FBOs) became homeless. The policy will among others address this issue,” said the minister.
“There is also existing turmoil among the (FBOs). Some pastors up against other pastors. As the directorate we can’t sit back and let this continue.”
The minister said the petition was uncalled for because it was for the good of all citizens in the country and the religious and faith-based organizations.