Liberian president opposes Christian state plans

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, says efforts to declare Liberia a Christian state would create “division among the citizens based on religious belief.” Sirleaf is shown addressing the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. 2008 file photo by Mike DuBose
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, says efforts to declare Liberia a Christian state would create “division among the citizens based on religious belief.” Sirleaf is shown addressing the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. 2008 file photo by Mike DuBose

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, says efforts to declare Liberia a Christian state would create “division among the citizens based on religious belief.”

She made her comments when she submitted the report of the Constitution Review Commission to the National Legislature on August 18, 2015, five months after the commission met in Gbarnga and approved a proposal to make Liberia a Christian country.

In an eight-page letter to the Liberian Senate, Sirleaf said the founders of the Republic did not put into the Liberian Constitution a declaration of Christianity as the nation’s religion.

“The constitution has always allowed freedom of religion and worship without seeking to describe or prescribe one religion as the official religion,” she said, adding that Article 14 of the Liberian Constitution correctly separates religion and state, and provides specifically and unequivocally that the Republic shall establish no religion.

Proposals go to National Legislature

Sirleaf’s letter is expected to be discussed by the National Legislature as part of their efforts to hold a referendum on amending the Liberian constitution. Though the National Legislature is dominated by Christians, many Christians, including United Methodist Bishop John G. Innis, have opposed the proposal to make Liberia a Christian state.

Innis had said that constitutional provisions were not needed to practice the Christian faith and expand The United Methodist Church in Liberia.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ did not force people to follow him, so Christians should not advocate for legislation that will create conflict for our nation.”

Baptist, Catholic and Muslim leaders have also expressed opposition to the proposal according to news reports.

Earlier, the Constitution Review Committee presented Sirleaf, who is a member of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, with its final report on all the recommendations from the National Constitution Conference on August 17, 2015.

The supporters of the changes to the Liberian constitution said they were simply trying to restore language that was originally in the preamble to the Liberian constitution that the nation was built on a Christian foundation. They say that language was removed in 1986 when the constitution was amended.

“We are not asking for a statute legislating Christianity,” said Sen. Jewel Howard Taylor.

Swen is editor and publisher of West African Writers, an online publication about United Methodist happenings in West Africa and assists the denomination in Liberia with coverage for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, newsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5469.

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