Church leaders reject new law

NCCK secretary general Peter Karanja (right) said the church would not support the draft constitution as MPs had approved it without amending clauses on abortion and kadhi's courts. Photo/FILE

Christian leaders on Friday said they would mobilise their followers to reject the draft since MPs had failed to remove the kadhi's courts and a clause that permits termination of pregnancy.

National Council of Churches of Kenya secretary general Peter Karanja, said Parliament's approval of the document without these amendments was pushing them to reject it.

“As we have stated clearly before, we will not accept a draft that promotes one religion over another. We had not anticipated a confrontation, but we are being pushed to one,” Rev Karanja said.

He added: “The issue on kadhis’ court has not been a fundamentally theological issue but rather one of justice and equality.”

But chief Kadhi Hammad Mohammed Kassin urged Christians to be tolerant saying the courts should not be a contentious issue. He said the kadhi's courts had never interfered with the lives of non-Muslims for the period they existed in the country.

“By shooting down the constitution on such basis would be a show of lack of tolerance for people of other beliefs,” the Chief Kadhi said.

When the motion to delete the courts from the constitution came up for debate, only 57 MPs went to vote while the rest trooped out. Gachoka MP, Rev Mutava Musyimi, had moved the amendment which said “the State and religion shall be separate,” and that “State shall treat all religions equally.”

His attempts to have MPs back the amendment were futile as he did not raise the 65 per cent support that was required for any amendment to go through. Rev Karanja said the matter would now only be resolved during the referendum and reiterated that they would vote against the draft.

And Anglican bishop Beneah Salala said MPs should now be ready to “see the repercussion” of retaining the courts in the proposed law. “Why should the state fund one religion at the expense of all the others?” he asked and said Christians would not allow the courts to remain in the constitution. 

Similarly, Bishop Anthony Muheria of the Catholic church said the draft had created loop holes for the termination of pregnancy and would not sail through. “The church is still determined to have protection to the right of life,” he said.

Attempts by Public Health minister Beth Mugo to delete the word 'abortion’ from the draft flopped after only 62 MPs turned up to vote against a required 145. “The minister’s proposal were acceptable for most people that a leeway for abortion should not be created,” said Bishop Muheria.

While proposing to delete the clause, the Public Health minister said she had hammered a consensus with the church leaders. Special Programmes minister Naomi Shabaan and Attorney General Amos Wako had also proposed the same.

In its place, the amended clause would have read that termination of pregnancy was not permitted but expectant women are entitled to emergency medical treatment in case of life threatening conditions. “We are disappointed that the politicians have not taken the proposals seriously,” Bishop Muheria said, adding that the document would eventually meet the people during the referendum.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) urged both the politicians and the religious groups to preach and advocate for a unified approach to the referendum. “Religious, regional or party interests threaten to scuttle the process of acquiring a new constitution. The fact that no parties managed to secure a majority in various amendments could be a pointer that Kenyans may as well not support the draft,” said the new LSK chairman Kenneth Akide.

Mr Akide said history would judge the two groups harshly if they eventually frustrated the efforts of getting a new constitution. “These people should not look at what a party stands to gain at the end of the process, rather what the country gains.”