Postdate: 1/ 09/ 2009
In the last 20 years the search for certainties in ethnic identity and religious beliefs have become militant and become the basis of conflict as evidenced in the coups of 1987 and 2000. But religion as a value is important in people’s lives as it binds them together and provides them with a philosophy on how to live.
M.K. Gandhi saw democracy and violence as irreconcilable or as he said “can ill go together”. Democracy he felt cannot be defended by violent means and the true democrat is he who with pure non-violent means defends his liberty and, therefore his country’s and the whole of mankind. And because of it religion can be the basis for positive change in society but this will only happen if the values proclaimed and witnessed to in the different faiths are reconcilable.
Freedom of Religion and Belief is a fundamental right and is proclaimed in UDHR 1948 (Article 18) everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The rights includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief. The political motivated move to regard Christianity as the “official” religion has led to a lack of respect ad tolerance; there is need to recognise others faiths which smaller in statistical terms. Alongside Hindu temples, Muslim mosques we see Sikh gurudwara dotted over the country.
Traditional religions still persist amongst First nations of North America under threat from evil dehumanising forces of globalisation.
State needs to be separate from religion. State here means a nation in its corporate capacity and organised for civil government.
Each religion in Fiji has its own manner of governance peculiar to its own belief system.
The ban imposed under PER on Methodist Church not to hold this year’s conference and national celebration represents state interference and to be regretted. But Methodism made up largely of ethnic Fijians has dominated the religious landscape to such an extent that it has become proven cause for political instability.
Those that profess themselves to have no religion doubled in census number from 1986 to 1996. To the extent to which this represents new found freedom in a multi-faith and multicultural society. Freedom is enjoyed equally by all and protected by law.
In order for Freedom of Religion and Belief to be realised, not only must the state not interfere into affairs of religion but also dominant religious groups especially Methodism must exercise tolerance and modesty in a religious landscape which is highly pluralistic. Any other faith groups must respect law and order so that state can function in an unbiased way, according to the laws of the land. Unlawful recurrence of sacrilege in burning of places of worship especially Hindu temples has continued regardless of the law and with impunity. (Statistics)
Whereas freedom is not an absolute. Any society, committed to the kinds of freedom such as that of religion and belief must know that this as a guiding principle for religious tolerance. Setting limits to freedom of expression may be justified as in the current Fiji situation where the state continues to extend media censorship. At the same time the state cannot function in a democracy without public criticism and the media has a role in this regard. Dialogue towards finding solution is therefore essential