Beware the Secular State
THE debate on abortion rambles on and from this armchair, it looks like our dear parliamentarians have managed the rare feat of making both the pro-lifers and pro-choice people unhappy. Under the draft penal code, women will not be criminally liable if they abort due to a pregnancy resulting from rape, incest, forced marriage or if the mother’s health is at risk due to the pregnancy.
We, on the pro-choice side, think these measures do not go far enough while the pro-lifers think these recent concessions by the parliament go too far.
I have already said my bit on this whole debate and would rather not be labeled as some sort of crusader on this; however, last week 20 men of the cloth gathered to give journalists their views on the matter and, as usual, they said the most interesting things.
Some hemmed and hawed on these new concessions preferring to state that focus should be placed on the underlying issues behind abortion while others were firm on the sinfulness of abortion. Apparently eternal damnation is not enough for these sinful aborting women, they should spend a considerable part of their lives rehearsing for hell by going to jail. All 60,000 of them.
Naturally, this was all to form and in some ways hardly newsworthy. The 20 religious leaders were doing their jobs and could be fully relied upon to state pro-life positions with varying degrees of moral outrage seasoned with warnings of societal degradation and the wrath of God.
The difference this time is that they were calling for a referendum on the matter perhaps confident in the conservative nature of many voters.
I found this interesting because in the event that the call of the men of God is heeded, it would be the first time in this country that a referendum is called for a single provision in an ordinary law rather than a constitutional matter. Indeed, I cannot think of any legal or electoral precedent for this in any jurisdiction.
Apart from the unique nature of so limited a non-constitutional referendum there’s the unusual reliance on an electoral solution. Most times, a religious leader will quote you script from a holy book and tell you that it is the will of God.
This is the first time they’ve said ‘this is the will of God so let’s vote on it’. It seems that God is more democratic these days and more willing to play by the democratic rules of the world.
While the religious leaders were showing off their recently acquired democratic instincts, Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Rt. Rev. Onesphore Rwaje, appeared to believe that Rwanda was a theocracy.
The Archbishop warned that secularism was knocking at Rwanda’s door and that Rwandans should not let it in [See “Religious leaders call for more debate on abortion”].
I have some bad news for His Lordship the Archbishop, the secular state is already here. Secularism is not knocking at the door, it’s already inside. Indeed, it’s been around for at least 8 years and resides in the first sentence of the first article of Rwanda’s constitution – “The Rwandan State is an independent, sovereign, democratic, social and secular Republic”.
Perhaps, the religious leaders should have been more ambitious and demanded for a constitutional referendum on the secular nature of this country. They may have gotten lucky and made this a theocratic nation even though they would have a devil of a time agreeing on what the state religion would be.
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