The definition of the word ‘religion’ is the main centre of controversy between the lower chamber of deputies and the Senate as discussions on the bill governing religious communities continues to linger in parliament.
The bill, which had initially been passed by the lower chamber, was sent back by the Senators with some proposed amendment before it could be sent to the President for promulgation.
Yesterday, MPs in the lower chamber said that they did not like the Senators’ modifications on the definition.
This is a fundamental issue that impacts on at least three other clauses of the bill, including one clarifying on the purpose of the legislation.
In the previous draft law, the lower chamber defined (in Article 2: Definitions) religion as: “a group of people of the same set of beliefs with the same God or god and preachings based on their consciousness.”
The Senate, however, amended the definition, stating it thus: “A doctrine of a community sharing the same beliefs and cult.”
Alfred Gasana, the Chairperson of the lower chamber’s Committee on Political Affairs, explained that the committee made use of a team of researchers to work out an appropriate definition of a religion.
Gasana told the House that even an expert from the Ministry of Local Government who was consulted agreed that the Senate erred.
During Wednesday’s debate, in the lower house, it was also highlighted that since the word religion is also omitted in the Senate’s explanation on the purpose of the law, it also makes it unclear.
The senate says the purpose of the law is to determine the organisation and functioning of religious communities and religious associations.
Lawmakers voted that a joint committee comprising members from both houses be set up to consider the two sets of definitions and work out a proper definition, before the bill is further scrutinised.