Editorial: Religious freedom is not a blank cheque

There is a very disturbing image of an eight-year-old boy in Kicukiro with blood dripping on the side of his head doing rounds on the internet. The boy claims it was the handiwork of a teacher who struck him with a ruler for refusing to pray with his classmates.

Let this sink in; he is just eight years old but has already taken an extreme stance regarding his religion. Rwanda is a secular country and usually lets every denomination go about their work with no hindrance, but there are some no-go areas that breed extremism and radicalization.

Today religion is used as an exploitative tool that it has attained alarming levels. There is a Rwandan self-styled “bishop” and a very regular feature on social media who shamelessly sells God’s blessings. The surprising thing is that people believe him and shower him with money.

Church offerings and tithes have overtaken moral teachings. Last week, a leading Ugandan cleric came out boldly and suggested to the revenue collection body to deduct tithes directly from Christians’ salaries.

Maybe it is time governments introduced a religious tax on church offerings because there is a lot of money out there that religious charlatans are taking advantage of tax-free. But the surge of religious extremism is what should give authorities sleepless nights as those are dangerous waters to sail.

Compared to other countries, religious predators are still operating within legal boundaries here, but there is a feeling that they are slowly creating breeding grounds for extremist theories. If an eight-year-old child is willing to suffer for his religion, then God save us.

But definitely, something needs to be done without entirely interfering with religious freedoms. These are dangerous times we are living in where unchecked religious fervour is dragging countries down a path of no return.

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