Speaker advocates regulatory framework to protect religious rights
The Speaker of Parliament has called for the firming up of a regulatory framework that protects religious rights and freedom of individuals, and defines the responsibilities of publicly-financed institutions, particularly in the context of elementary and secondary education.
Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin said the recent tension between religious groups and school regulations was a testament to the urgency of such regulatory framework.
For instance, he said, reports of schools interfering with the religious freedoms of students, such as some schools barring Muslim students from fasting, had highlighted the need for a comprehensive framework that guaranteed the rights of all students, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Launch of caucus
Launching the Ghana Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in Accra yesterday, Mr Bagbin referenced the two Rastafarian students who were asked to cut their dreadlocks before being admitted to the Achimota School.
“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 caucus will bring together interested Members of Parliament to work with faith leaders, civil society organisations and other bodies to promote a peaceful and tolerant society.
The event, 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, where similar bodies have been set up.
The project, which saw the Speaker of Parliament and other participants sign the Accra Charter on FoRB, was organised with support from the Norwegian Government.
The Speaker said it was time stakeholders worked together to address the gaps or loose ends in religious matters to build a brighter future for the country.
Mr Bagbin said it was imperative that the 1992 Constitution, which unequivocally denounced religious discrimination and guaranteed the right to religious freedom for all individuals, was upheld.
“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.
Mr Bagbin expressed happiness that the coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Ghana remained 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,” he said.
He further urged Ghanaians to embrace their differences and refrain from imposing their beliefs on others.
“We must bear in mind that having the freedom to practise 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 Executive Director of the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs, Dr Rasheed Draman, said over the years, religious tolerance had been slipping through the hands of a number of countries.
He cited, for instance, how some people in Nigeria had turned religious intolerance into a force for destruction, with grave consequences.
“So, 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,” he said.