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Opinions of Sunday, 2 June 2019

Columnist: Amanda Clinton

Lawyer Amanda Clinton writes: Churches should not be legislated

Parliament is divided over the menace of some fake pastors operating within Ghana and during the week some parliamentarians have suggested that there should be a mechanism to regulate these pastors.

Parliamentarians in favour of legislation argue that there is a need for Parliament to critically investigate the activities of these churches and pastors in order to protect Ghanaians from exploitation since they are alleged to have been engaging in all manner of unacceptable practices in the country.

However legislation is an over-kill, self-regulation will lead to some churches sweeping crimes such as paedophilia and financially related crimes under the carpet and more importantly this matter relates to all types of spiritual organizations and practitioners who take advantage of the public not just Christians.

This is a national issue that involves every type of religion and practical solutions are required not just needless legislation that might over step the separation between the State and the Church.

A more practical response would be to create a sub-division within the Special Investigation Unit at the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D) with a tip line and email box dedicated to receiving any complaint in the nation that relates to a spiritual organizations or practitioner’s misdeeds- be they Christian, muslim, traditional or otherwise.

Not every action would be investigated but those that involve abuse of life, finances etc. of a particular or serious nature would be treated as a lead and followed through whilst this particular crime desk refer some matters to G.R.A, their colleagues and other appropriate departments for investigation to determine if a crime is indeed being committed.

So if a need exists ‘to critically investigate the activities of these churches and pastors in order to protect Ghanaians from exploitation’, a sub-division within the Special Investigation unit of the C.I.D will lead to identification of the seriousness of spiritual organization/practitioners abuse nationally (depending on the tips reported). This will also lead to more transparency because although some spiritual organizations identify that there is a problem e.g paedophelia, they don’t want any negative press or attention so sweep the problem under the carpet without reporting the matter to the appropriate government office.

So who’s going to pay for all this? Since government is concerned about this evolving problem in Ghana, it would not be expensive for government to specialize 5 detectives within C.I.D so that a sub-unit is created within the Special Investigation department of C.I.D. As this unit grows, tips could come in through a dedicated number and email box and a media awareness campaign could be rolled out about the availability of the resource.

Collaboration with other departments who can investigate the seriousness of the claim is also critical to the success of this effort and so is C.I.D co-ordination and stakeholder buy-in from religious organizations. For instance, religious organizations throughout the country could strategically be engaged, made aware of the resource and voluntarily donate a monthly amount per annum to this dedicated unit. Stakeholders such as non-governmental organizations as well as religious organizations could therefore contribute towards the running of this department financially.

My main concern about legislation is the separation of church and state means political distance in the relationship between religious organizations and the State and respectfully that line has already been crossed with Churches being asked to pay taxes whereas in nations such as America (where they tax more than most nations) churches are considered 501(c)(3) registered and therefore exempt from paying taxes. If we further legislate the church in this country we will ensure that the division of church and state completely disappears until no division exists and more importantly we won’t address the national issue of all types of religions committing misdeeds and won’t find practical solutions to eradicating such a problem by sweepingly passing legislation.

Parliamentarians are well-intended but need a practical solution to a national issue.