By Paul Shalala
Zambia’s latest draft constitution has guaranteed freedom of worship and also maintained the 16 year old declaration of the southern African country as a Christian nation.
According to Part five of the draft constitution which was released to the public in May 2012 for public scrutiny, all Zambians have a right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
This means that Zambians will continue to enjoy their freedom to practice any religion of their choice without state control.
This proposed legislation means that that the country does not recognize any single Christian church but citizens can choose their own denomination.
If passed, the draft constitution also seeks to allow religious institutions to establish, maintain and operate education facilities in order to help the already struggling Ministry of Education which is at the moment failing to maintain its schools spread across the country.
At the moment, Zambia has hundreds of churches spread across the country and some years ago they had increased in number to an extent where the government threatened to stop registering new ones due to a perception that some clergy were personalizing and commercializing evangelism.
Meanwhile, the draft constitution has also maintained a clause which proclaims Zambia as a Christian nation.
In its preamble, the draft constitution states: “We the people of Zambia in exercise of our constituent power, acknowledge the supremacy of God Almighty, declare the republic a Christian nation but uphold the right of every person to enjoy that person’s freedom of conscience or religion.”
If this preamble will be adopted, Zambia will continue observing Christianity as its official religion and also allowing other religions to continue operating in the country.
Since 1964 when Zambia gained its independence from its colonial master Britain, the country was officially a secular state until 1996 when late President Frederick Chiluba amended the constitution and declared it a Christian nation.
Despite the declaration, other religions such as Judaism, Islam and Hinduism have continued to grow with the Muslims building more mosques around the country.
The country has powerful church mother bodies which are very vocal on many religious and governance issues. These religious bodies such as the Council of churches in Zambia, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambian and the Zambia Episcopal Conference, usually influence public policy and have a large say in many legal and social issues through the issuance of periodic pastoral letters which guide their followers on various issues.
During last year’s general elections, the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation was a huge campaign issue which saw some politicians accusing each other of planning to scrap off the Christian nation clause from the constitution once they win.
Newly elected President Michael Sata, who is a devout Catholic, has on several occasions emphasised that he would govern the country on the Ten Commandments as contained in the Christian Bible.
He has further told the nation that being a Christian nation is not enough but should be coupled with the observance of the Ten Commandments.
With the release of the draft constitution, Zambians now have 40 days in which to read and submit comments on the draft constitution.
Thereafter, a Technical Committee appointed by President Michael Sata is expected to produce the final constitution in September this year before the document is subjected to a referendum and later enacted into law by Parliament.