A new Prime Minister’s directive that has banned holding religious ceremonies in government offices has caused some mixed reactions.
Some are seeing it as an impediment to freedom of worship while others see it as an exaggeration of religious fervor and a nuisance.
The government sees it in a different light. The prayers have been interrupting service delivery and misusing government premises. To make matters worse, they have been eating into civil servants’ working hours.
Rwanda is a secular state that believes in the separation of religion and the State. Freedom of worship is enshrined in the constitution and is adhered to.
But in practicing one’s belief, it is imperative that others you don’t share religious inclinations with are respected.
Historically, religion, especially the Catholic Church, played a decisive part in the country’s fortunes since the introduction of Christianity in the later 1880s.
The Church was synonymous with the State and was the guardian of education. All government leaders, at one time or another, passed through a Catholic-run school.
It reached to the extent that the head of the Catholic Church in Rwanda was a member of the ruling party’s Central Committee under former President Juvenal Habyarimana.
Other religions were sidelined and Muslims even had to take on Christian sounding names to be admitted in school. Members of the 7th Day Adventists were penalized for not taking part in community work (Umuganda), which falls on their Sabbath, instead of giving them an alternative day as is the case today.
Today, religious tolerance is the order of the day, but that is no reason to interfere with the smooth running of government business. There is a time and place to hold religious ceremonies with no restrictions; why not take that option for the sake of others’ sensitivities?