Regulating churches could backfire - govt warned

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Regulating churches could backfire - govt warned
Michael David Kyazze senior pastor of Omega Healing Center and Hon Angelina Osege, former Soroti District Woman MP discuss the contentious policy during the press briefing.

The Ugandan government's plan to regulate religious and faith organizations (RFOs) through the RFOs Policy 2023 has sparked a fierce challenge from church leaders.

The policy, spearheaded by the Directorate of the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity and the Office of the President, aims to deepen government oversight and regulation of RFOs.

However, church leaders argue that this move could have far-reaching and potentially disastrous consequences.

Under the proposed policy, religious leaders would be required to undergo formal training and obtain permits to qualify as leaders.

RFOs would be required to account for all their dealings to the government, ostensibly to promote accountability and transparency. Additionally, they would also need permission to set up worship premises.

Church leaders, however, see this move as an attempt to stifle their freedom of worship and expression. They argue that the policy is based on a flawed assumption that RFOs are potential breeding grounds for rebel groups.

They point out that the vast majority of Ugandans subscribe to RFOs, which are peaceful and law-abiding.

International Center for Religious Advocacy and Development (ICRAD) officials told press on Wednesday that they are working on a multipronged approach to fight the policy.

They are currently drafting a petition to President Museveni, protesting the policy and calling for its scrapping. The petition has already garnered 10,000 signatures from church leaders across 20 districts.

ICRAD Director Simon Ssenyonga warned that the policy could have dire consequences, citing the example of Kenya, which passed a similar policy last year and is now experiencing devastating natural disasters.

He quoted Prophet Elvis Mbonye, who predicted these disasters, and cautioned that Uganda could face similar calamities if the policy is implemented.

Other church leaders also spoke out against the policy, citing historical examples of attempts to regulate or suppress religious freedom, which ultimately led to disastrous consequences.

They warned that the government's move could be seen as antagonizing God, which would have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences.

Wisdom K. Peter, another director of ICRAD, voiced concerns about potential repercussions similar to those experienced in Kenya following the implementation of a comparable policy.

He referenced Prophet Elvis Mbonye’s prediction that ignored warnings could lead to natural disasters, like the recent floods in Kenya.

“The disdainful attitude of the policy's authors, who equate religious organizations with vagabond rebel groups, is both insulting and dangerous,” Wisdom added. He pointed out the government’s unfavorable comparison of RFOs to notorious groups like the ADF, Al Shabaab, and the LRA.

Rev Stephen Bamutungire from All Saints Cathedral highlighted historical precedents where religious opposition in Uganda had profound consequences, drawing parallels to the martyrdom faced by followers during the reign of Buganda King Mwanga and the persecution under Idi Amin in 1977.

“These historical events, including the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum, demonstrate the resilience of our faith against government oppression,” Bamutungire stated.

Hon Angelina Osege, former Soroti District Woman MP, cautioned that disrupting divine missions could lead to downfall, as seen in the case of Idi Amin.

“History shows that no one who has antagonized the divine has emerged unscathed. This policy, while seeming to regulate mere humans, actually interferes with those acting in God’s service,” she remarked.

Michael David Kyazze, senior pastor of Omega Healing Centre, asserted the church’s strong stance against the policy.

“This resurrected law, which we previously overcame, will find us even more united and resilient than before,” he said.

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