Blog: Let the Dialogue continue
Time and again the issue of separation of the link between religion, politics and the State surfaces. The latest being the address of priest Jean Claude Véder at the celebration of the St. Louis at the cathedral of Port Louis on Saturday 25th of August in the presence of the Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, Paul Berenger Leader of the Opposition and the Lord Mayor of Port Louis Mamade Khodabaccus.
The position of the church is very healthy. I have always appreciated its stand on such issues as freedom of expression, human rights and the dignity of man. In Mauritius, the church had also played a very significant role in the promotion of education, health and maintenance of peace and harmony. It is a leader in social dialogue with other socio-cultural religious organizations.
But it has also enjoyed the most privileged relationship with the State. In historical perspective, the religion of the State used to be the religion of the masters, both economic and political. In those days, only the Christian church used to receive subsidy from the State until such privilege was extended to all recognized religious bodies particularly after independence.
Today, the State distributes some Rs74 million to those religious bodies as a per capita grant. Through different schemes, the State helps to improve the infrastructure of religious sites by the NDU and the Ministry of the Environment. The State also provides subsidy to schools run by religious authorities. The lion share of the subsidy goes to school run by the church.
Let me hasten to add that the schools are excellent and open to all irrespective of the religious beliefs of the students. Also 50% of the admission is controlled by the church, the other 50% on merit list based on the results of CPE exams.
These days when the Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers is taking place in Mauritius, we can proudly show our system as a model for providing access to education to all as per the objective of the Commonwealth by 2015.
Father Véder has quoted several authorities to say that there is no contradiction in religious authorities maintaining a civilized working relationship between religious bodies and the State.
They can coexist in a secular State. This principle is based on the statement by Jesus Christ “Rendons a César ce qui appartient a César et a Dieu ce qui appartient a Dieu”.
I do not see anything wrong in adopting this policy. Many who do so have different interpretation and motives. The main objection comes on account of the privileged relationship enjoyed and shared by some socio-cultural organizations and their leaders and politicians. In fact these leaders sometimes get little perks such as appointments on certain boards of parastatal bodies. They hardly have any influence on policy matters of the State.
I think the church is the most appropriate organization to put into practice and operate the separation of the link between the State and religion. It is fully organized, it has structure, its followers control the economy, it has a neutral stand on politics, it can afford to be autonomous, but it cannot have the cake and eat it.
This does not mean that it should have no dialogue with the state. It was in France that secular forces forced the separation between the State and religious authorities. Mauritian secularism includes religion. That is why religious festivals are declared national holidays. The State also participates and gives a helping hand in the organization of these celebrations marking those festivals.
The political leaders set the example by participating in these celebrations thus showing respect to the religious beliefs of Mauritians. Mauritius may be the only country in the world where political leaders mix so freely with religious leaders of different faiths.
Time has come for the church to preach by setting the example. First step could be to stop inviting political leaders to attend their functions, giving them prominent positions and having tea with them. Of course they will be free to come in an individual capacity. No reserved seat.
It should return the subsidy it receives from the State. I believe it is organized enough and its disciples rich enough to make good the sum foregone. It can also run its schools on a nonprofit basis as it does its nursing homes. Excellent service, paid, open to all but not with a profit motive.
I know I am making absurd proposals. I am just showing the mirror to the practical side of the implementation of the separation of State and religious matters in our country.
On the contrary, I believe the dialogue must continue to consolidate the link. Our social fabric is such that the State should continue to seek the participation and help of socio-cultural religious bodies to maintain peace, harmony and understanding. We should continue to be a model of peaceful coexistence and intercultural way of life.
During the visit of the Pope to Mauritius, a spokesman of the church said that the church had discovered a new positive facet of the State. Their collaboration had made the visit possible. The whole country has benefitted from the visit. Is not the Pope also the Head of State of the Vatican? Does not the Vatican enjoy diplomatic relations with different States including Mauritius? Let us continue the dialogue to consolidate and improve the link but each religion should refrain from imposing its views on the other.