Harper Lee wrote in his 1960 novel ‘To Kill the mockingbird’ that, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” And Mahatma Gandhi too weighed in on the subject when he inscribed that, “In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”
On The Perspective today, the vetting eye is on conscience. Tony Malim and Ann Birch defined conscience as, “That part of the superego which is concerned with preventing immoral impulses from entering the conscious mind.” And the Oxford University defines it as, “the part of the mind that tells you whether your actions are right or wrong.”
Conscience is a sacred and fundamental edict in the human mind [psyche], which gives life and controls the physical body. It is also the level of human [personal] dignity, and when it is violated, inhibited or removed, man becomes automated, and will only be parroting and acting like a robot [without willpower]. Reverend Dr Thomas Eugene Lovorn collectively referred to the psyche and the conscience as, “the soul, mind, spirit, or invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body.”
Conscience is very much a legal matter, just as it is a spiritual matter. It is a right that is universally recognised, respected, protected and can be enforced by the courts of law; at least in all 193 sovereign and United Nations [UN] member states.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] provides that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion….” And Article 19 (1) of the [Republican] Constitution Amendment Act no.18 of 1996 provides that, “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this Article the said freedom includes freedom of thought and religion….”
When it comes to the violation of peoples’ conscience, politicians are often the real culprits. They are always wanting to command everybody to live by their volition and their political whims. Zambians are no exception to this hogwash and backward vice; political players from either side of the divide, along with their surrogates and sympathisers hardly ever allow people to exercise their freedom of conscience. Those who attempt to breath out their thoughts on pertinent issues are either threatened to have their limbs broken or labeled as the disgruntled and ridiculous ones.
Nevertheless, people must appreciate the fact that conscience is a fundamental human right and any mature and civil mind will respect other people’s conscience and allow for their quiet enjoyment of this inalienable birthright. Therefore, there is no cause for alarm, no need for panic, and there is no need for hostility.
Everybody is in the business of selling themselves and their ideas to the general populace. Those with the best ideas get endeared to the people and are preferred to others. If you are to endear yourself to the citizenry, please do it by offering the best ideas there is, and be tolerant to others. Michael Grant Ignatief wrote that, “Intolerance is a form of divided consciousness in which abstract, conceptual, ideological hatred vanquishes concrete, real and individual moments of identification.” Therefore, don’t try to subjugate others by muzzling or suppression; that is a crude and retrogressive way of winning hearts of the people.
Conscience is the primal aspiration of the people; therefore, the plea for freedom of conscience is the expression of people’s wish for self-assertion and self -determination. It is unfortunate that the National Assembly Bill no. 10 of 2019, through a number of provisions, sought to deny the people latitude of self- assertion and self-determination.
Bill 10 attempted to violate most people’s conscience, by imposing amendments that were counterproductive. One such provision is the removal of the multi-religious provision [from the Preamble and Article 4(3)] and the replacement of Christianity. According to Bill 10, “The objective of this bill [was] to amend the Constitution of Zambia so as to – (a) revise the Preamble in order to ‘reaffirm’ the Christian character of Zambia; (b) revise the principles and values the Constitution”.
The Oxford University defines the word reaffirm as, “to restate something again in order to emphasize that it is true.” Unfortunately, the amendment would not have only reaffirmed the Christian character in the Constitution, but would also have excluded other religions; removing the multi-religious provision, would have made Christianity the only religion in Zambia. Therefore, Bill 10 attempted to violate people’s conscience by proscribing [removing] other religions from the Constitution and entrenching Christianity instead.
Other than the removal of the multi-religious provision, the infamous Bill 10 sought to introduce Christian Morals and Ethics [in Article 8(a)]. Christian Morality and Ethics are derivatives of Biblical teachings and the consequential belief. The two connote a definite belief and manifestation of Biblical teachings; a non-believer cannot willingly live by the dictates and requirements of Christianity, unless they are converted. Therefore, entrenching these principles in the supreme law is equivalent to converting everyone to Christianity by the hook, because the Constitution would demand the unflinching observance of each and every provision from every citizen.
Christian Morality and Ethics are theocentric by nature. Whereas morality concerns itself with principles of right and wrong and regulating conduct through Christian beliefs, ethics are moral principles that influence behaviour. You cannot therefore separate morality and ethics from beliefs.
Henlee H. Barnette defined ethics as, “A systematic explanation of moral examples and teachings of Jesus applied to the total life of the individual in society and actualised by the power of the Spirit.” Barnette further classified Christian ethics into two; teleological [ethics of the goal or end of man, thus; the vision of God, human perfection and the kingdom of God, are posited as the ethical goals of man] and deontological [ethics of radical obedience to God] ethics.
Therefore, the Christian morality and ethics must not be part of the Constitution and the Christian nation description needs to remain in the preamble; designating a provision to it would be dangerous. It would promote religious intolerance and would run a risk to hound out other religions by either intolerant individuals or despotic rulers. The current position, protects everyone because the Constitution provides for a multi-religious status of the nation.
Constitutionally, entrenching the Christian character would have discriminated against some people on religious grounds; the use of the Quran and other religious books to swear upon in the courts would have been precluded. Non-Christians would not have been able to run for public office; once elected they would be compelled to swear to uphold the Constitution which promotes Christianity as a sole religion.
It is shocking how proponents of Bill 10 want to create an illusion that Constitutional entrenchment of the Christian character is a matter of life and death. It must be appreciated that Zambia is not a Christian nation, because of a dire need to be one, but because Christians form the majority of the citizens. However, there are people even among the indigenous, who are practicing other religions. It would be delusional, therefore, to allege that Zambia is wholly Christian.
Allow me to end with a quote from Charles Mwewa, who states that, “…it is important for leaders to guard against the imposition of any particular religion on the entire society. The Republican Constitution should be a neutral document that does not discriminate against atheists or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Jainism.” Let everyone be free to enjoy their freedom of conscience. For today I will end here; it’s Au revoir, from EBP.
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