‘Kenya’s ‘Pope holiday’ puts church and state too close for comfort’
By Harrison Mumia, Special to CNN
Updated 11:46 AM ET, Thu November 26, 2015
- President of Atheists in Kenya believes public holiday tied to papal visit is unconstitutional
- He lodged appeal with High Court trying to block the move
- He argues the state should maintain a strictly secular position
Harrison Mumia is president of Atheists In Kenya. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
(CNN)Pope Francis is currently in Africa for the first time. His visit has elicited a lot of excitement, leading to a flurry of activities by the state, media and the church.
It will be remembered that the Catholic Church is well established in most African countries, especially in East Africa, and particularly in Kenya. Over 20% of Kenyans profess the Catholic faith.
As a part of the preparations that were being made to welcome Pope Francis to Kenya, a public holiday was declared on 26 November by the Kenyan government. This came as a shock to me, and indeed to part of the atheist and secular community in Kenya. I therefore moved to court to challenge this declaration under Articles 8, 9 and 32 of the Kenyan constitution.
My decision to move to court has received a lot of backlash from the largely religious community in the country. To demonstrate this, in an article appearing in the Kenyan Star newspaper on 26 November, 2015, the editor described my move to court as a show of disrespect to the Pope.
At the onset, I must say that I admire Pope Francis. He is a liberal, modern Pope, whose demeanor contrasts sharply with that of previous Popes. His views on climate change, his seemingly accommodative approach towards gays and lesbians and his recognition for the evolution theory are some of the things that endear him to me.
My decision to move to court has nothing to do with the Pope’s visit. It has nothing to do with the Catholic Church, and its freedom of worship. It has everything to do with promoting secularism in Kenya.
Article 8 of the Kenyan Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. It states that there shall be not state religion. The fact that Christians constitute a majority of Kenyans does not entitle them to impose their beliefs and practices on the rest of the nation.
And even if the head of state is a Catholic, the running of government affairs must not be about his personal religious inclinations. That’s the beauty of Kenya’s new constitution.
The declaration of a public holiday by the Kenyan Government on the basis of the Pope’s visit to Kenya grossly violated the principle of separation of church and state under article 8.
Do you have a message for the Pope?
It is my conviction that we must prohibit the expression of religious beliefs in all public institutions. No laws should be passed by parliament or the government that promote religious activities. This means that we must not declare public holidays in honor of a specific religion, sect or faith.
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