Friday, December 14, 2012

Africa's anti-atheism


The constitution and other laws mandate a secular state and protect freedom of religion or belief. However, there are widespread state privileges for Christianity and routine bias against the nonreligious. Government meetings often begin with a Christian prayer. Even though the constitution prohibits forced religious instruction, forced participation in religious ceremonies, or taking oaths that run counter to an individual's religious beliefs, religious education is part of the curriculum in public schools. This public education emphasizes Christianity but also addresses other religious groups in the country, while excluding humanists and other non-theists. Additionally, the constitution provides that every religious community may establish places for religious instruction at the community's expense.


The constitution mandates a secular state, and the constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. However, there are widespread government privileges for religion, especially Christianity and Islam, and routine bias against the nonreligious. The government gives an annual subsidy to all private primary and secondary education institutions, including those operated by religious denominations. State-sponsored television station and radio stations broadcast Christian and Islamic religious services on a regular basis, as well as religious ceremonies on national holidays and during national events.


The constitution provides that the country shall be a secular state. However, some policies favor Islam in practice. A committee composed of members of the High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA) and the Directorate of Religious and Traditional Affairs in the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) organized trips to Mecca for the Hajj (pilgrimage during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar) and Umrah (pilgrimage). The Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs oversees religious matters. The HCIA oversees Islamic religious activities, including the supervision of some Arabic-language schools and higher institutions of learning, and the representation of the country in international Islamic meetings. The HCIA, in coordination with the president, appoints the grand imam, a spiritual leader for Muslims, who oversees each region's high imam and serves as head of the council. In principle, although not consistently in practice, the grand imam has the authority to restrict proselytizing by Islamic groups, regulate the content of mosque sermons, and exert control over activities of Islamic charities. Religious leaders are involved in managing the country's wealth. A representative of the religious community sits on the Revenue Management College, the body that oversees use of Chad’s oil revenues. The seat rotates between Muslim and Christian leaders every four years. While the government is legally obligated to treat all religious groups or denominations equally, some non-Muslims allege that Muslims receive preferential status, particularly concerning use of public lands for building places of worship.


Although the constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, Islam is the state religion and the president and other government employees, including magistrates, are required to take religious oaths. More than 99% of the population identifies as Sunni Muslim. Citizens officially are considered Muslims if they do not specifically identify with a faith; there are no figures available on the number of atheists in the country. Muslims are required to marry in an Islamic ceremony. Non-Muslims—who are known to include Roman Catholics, Protestants, Copts, and Bahá'ís—must marry in accordance with the rites of the religion with which they are registered. The government allows civil marriage only for non-Muslim foreign residents; so if there were atheist Djibouti who wanted to marry, they would not be able to do so (unless they hid their atheism and registered with a religion). A non-Muslim man may marry a Muslim woman only after converting to Islam. According to the family code, "impediment to a marriage occurs when a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim." The president is required to take a religious oath at inauguration; other government employees are also required to do so, such as magistrates, the presidents of Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Chamber of Accounts, and the inspector general of state. While there is no penalty established by law, it remains an official custom written in the Constitution for the president of the country and required by law for others. No legal provision exists for opposite practice.

Equatorial Guinea

While the constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, a 1992 presidential decree regulates the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. This decree provides official preference for the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea. While the decree does not hinder the practice of other religions or beliefs, its preferential effects can be observed in some circumstances; for example, Catholic masses are a normal part of any major ceremonial function, such as the October 12 National Day and June 5 President’s Birthday. In addition, Catholic and Reform church officials are exempt from airport entry and exit taxes.


The 1997 constitution protects freedom of religion or belief. However, the government has yet to implement the constitution, and in practice it does not respect freedom of belief. In the past few years, there has been an increase in serious government violations of religious freedom, including mass arrests, torture and death for members of minority belief groups. In 2002 the government decreed that all religious groups must either register or cease all religious activities. Four religious groups are now registered: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church. Religious facilities that did not belong to the four officially recognized religious groups were forced to close. The government retains significant control over the four registered religious groups, in most cases controlling their leadership and finances. Many places of worship have closed because of government intimidation and the mass conscription of religious workers and parishioners. The government routinely harasses and detains members of registered and unregistered religious groups, some of whom reportedly died as a result of torture and lack of medical treatment while in detention. By the end of 2011, many estimated that the population of religious prisoners remained at 2,000 to 3,000. Some arrestees reported that they were only released after they signed statements recanting their religious beliefs and agreeing to join an officially registered religion as a condition of their release. The application for an exit visa requires a designation of religious affiliation, and members of unregistered religions or no religion require additional permission from the Office of Religious Affairs, which has been reported to grant permission, deny permission, or arrest applicants on the spot for practicing an unrecognized faith or being non-religious.

The constitution requires the separation of state and religion; however, under a 2008 law it is a crime to defame religious groups.

The Gambia

Article 25 of the Constitution protects the rights of citizens to follow any religion or belief that they choose. The government has not established a state religion, although the constitution establishes Qadi (Muslim judge trained in the Islamic legal tradition) courts in such places as the chief justice determines. Their jurisdiction applies only to marriage, divorce, and inheritance questions for Muslims where they apply traditional Islamic law. The Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) is an independent body that advises the government on religious issues. Although the government does not have representation on the council, it provided the council with substantial funding. The minister of religious affairs maintains a formal relationship with the council. Government meetings and events typically commenced with two prayers, one Islamic and one Christian. The government funds religious instruction in schools. Public and private schools throughout the country provide Biblical and Qur'anic studies with government support.


The constitution and other laws and policies restrict freedom of religion or belief and the 1991 constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the sole religion of its citizens and the state. Due to this stance, all non-Muslims are restricted from being citizens of the country, and Mauritanians who leave Islam for another religion or no religion lose their citizenship. In addition, Article 306 of the penal code outlaws apostasy: anyone found guilty of converting from Islam will be given the opportunity to repent within three days and if the person does not repent, the individual will be sentenced to death and the person’s property will be confiscated by the Treasury. Sharia (Islamic law) provides legal principles upon which the law and legal procedures are based. The government and citizenry consider Islam to be the essential cohesive element unifying the country's various ethnic groups. There is a cabinet-level Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education. The High Council of Islam, consisting of six imams, advised the government on conformance of legislation to Islamic precepts. The judiciary consists of a single system of courts that uses principles of Sharia in matters concerning the family and modern legal principles in all other matters. The government requires members of the Constitutional Council and the High Council of Magistrates to take an oath of office that includes a promise to God to uphold the law of the land in conformity with Islamic precepts. Both public schools and private Islamic schools include classes on Islam, and attendance at these religious classes is required.


The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. The constitution mandates that local, state and federal government “shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” However, some state governments have a record of abusing freedom of religion or belief. There is significant hostility and violence between religious communities, especially Christians and Muslims, in many parts of the country. Some outbreaks of communal violence have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Yet, a climate of impunity exists, as authorities rarely prosecute and punish those responsible for violent attacks. The constitution provides that states may establish courts based on the common law or customary law systems. Twelve northern states Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Borno, Zamfara, and Gombe—maintained Sharia courts, which adjudicated both criminal and civil matters, along with common law and customary law courts. Non-Muslims had the option to try their cases in the Sharia courts if involved in disputes with Muslims. If non-Muslims did not agree to go to Sharia courts, common law courts would hear their cases. Although the constitution does not explicitly allow Sharia courts to hear criminal cases, they have done so in the past. In Zamfara State, the first state to adopt Sharia, a Sharia court must hear all criminal cases involving Muslims. No laws barred women or any groups from testifying in common law courts or gave less weight to their testimony; however, Sharia courts usually accorded less weight to the testimony of women and non-Muslims. Both federal and state governments regulate mandatory religious instruction in public schools; however, the constitution mandates that students do not receive religious instruction in any religion other than their own. In theory students can request a teacher of their own beliefs to provide alternative instruction, but in practice many schools lack teachers capable of doing so. Although the jurisdiction of Sharia technically does not apply to non-Muslims in civil and criminal proceedings, certain social mores inspired by Sharia, such as the separation of the sexes, affected non- Muslim minorities in the north. Many non-Muslims perceive that they lived under the rule of a Muslim government and often feared reprisals for their religious affiliation. The Hisbah—Sharia enforcement
groups funded by state governments in Bauchi, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna, and Kano—enforce, sometimes violently, some Sharia statutes.


The interim constitution and other laws and policies provide for some freedom of religion or belief. However, there are Islamic prohibitions against apostasy, blasphemy, and interfaith marriages. The Interim National Constitution enshrines Islamic law as a source of legislation in the country, and theofficial laws and policies of the government and the ruling National Congress Party favour Islam. Although there is no legal penalty for converting from another religion to Islam, converting from Islam to another religion or belief is punishable by imprisonment or death. Persons convicted of conversion are given the opportunity to recant their conversion before execution. A Muslim man may marry a Christian
or Jewish women, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim unless he converts to Islam. The penalty for blasphemy and “defamation” of Islam is up to six months in prison, whipping, and/or a fine.


The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief. However, the government requires Christian instruction in public schools. The classes are conducted in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions and are mandatory for all students through grade seven.

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