Ban on Registration of Churches
The office of the Attorney General has imposed a caveat that curtails the registration of churches in Kenya. This, as observed by many, is a move that obstructs the freedom of worship and the right of expressing one’s religious beliefs.
Article 32 of the Constitution of Kenya gives legal foundations of the freedom of Worship. The Constitution states that “Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.” It further enunciates “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.” These Constitutional provisions legitimize the right register churches in order to exercise the freedom of worship.
In a move to justify their action, the office of the Attorney General released a statement stating that this move was aimed at justifying the foundations of religious institutions and also play an oversight role following the increased cases of ‘radicalization’ in Kenya.
The Attorney General’s office has borne the criticism of various religious institutions who deem the ban as unconscionable. The president of Kenya has also condemned the directive, asking the Attorney General Githu Muigai to lift the ban suspending registration of churches, saying freedom of worship should not be curtailed.
The Attorney General, through an alleged moratorium on November 11, 2014, barred the registration of religious organizations pending the gazettement of regulations to govern churches. In 2015, evangelicals together with various religious leaders decried and protested against regulations proposed by the Attorney General that were aimed curbing alleged illicit activities of certain religious institutions. The new rules required inter alia that clerics submit certificates of good conduct and their theological training certificates. The Religious Societies Rules published by the Attorney General‘s Office also required that all religious organizations submit their constitution showing statements of their doctrine of faith. They further stipulated that all religious societies must be registered and open to the registrar’s inspection at any given time. They also required religious leaders must make a declaration of familial relations with other religious leaders and officers.
Time and again, religious leaders have expressed that they prefer having structured discussions with the State Law office to resolve the matter in a manner that will safeguard both the State’s and the churches’ interests. This should be adopted in order to foster collaboration and cooperation among the two entities. The state should relinquish its control over churches and relieve the Registrar of Societies of its oversight role in churches. Rather than adopting unfair and illogical means for the government in an attempt to control and muzzle all religious institutions by introducing new regulations that are not in line with the religious freedoms set out by the Constitution, the State should come up with rational interventions. Of importance is the need for the State to encourage consultative communications aimed at establishing a Religious Council. This entity will play an oversight role in the regulating the activities of religious bodies. The entity can have a large representation from religious bodies and a few State representatives. The State is a secular body and is thus susceptible to making subjective decisions regarding religious entities, therefore in its entirety the State cannot be entrusted to legislate on behalf or religious institutions.
The East Africa Centre for law and Justice endeavors to ensure that the idea of religious freedom remains fundamental and will keep utilizing all legal resources and mechanisms available to ensure that this Constitutional freedom is defended to protect the interests of the Church in Kenya. The law should be employed in prosecuting fraud or rogue preachers, however, freedom of worship should not be curtailed.