They named the place Providence Island. A few people were also brought to the country by the British navy after been taken off slave ships.
This followed the British Government’s abolition of slavery.A group of such people were settled in a suburb of Monrovia called Congo Town since those people were thought to be from the Congo. A previous attempt to move black or colored people to the African Continent disastrously failed.
This first group landed at Shebro Island, in present day Sierra Leone. They were ravaged and decimated by tropical diseases. The migrants who landed at Providence Island were purported to have purchased it from the native tribes who inhabited the area today known as Monrovia. At some point the settlers also named the area Christopolis.
Till today the area is still referred to in Liberian languages by its original name - Ducor. The word ‘Du’ is also the name of the Mesurado River. The natives call it the Du River. The settlers called it Mesurado River. The migrants, mainly from North America, used their military might to pacify the Vai, Gola, and Bassa people who originally inhibited the Ducor (Monrovia) area. The migrants eventually setup a governance structure which excluded the native inhabitants of Liberia.
They also set about “civilizing” the native population and did not regard them as citizens of the country unless they became “civilized”. It is worth noting here that the concept of being civilized in the Liberian context then and even now related to religious conversion to Christianity and adoption of western names. When Liberia’s independence was declared on July 26, 1847, a constitution came into force which effectively stated that not everyone living in the territory claimed as Liberia was citizen.
The 1847 Constitution in the preamble limited citizenship to people who were migrants from the western world and their descendents. It stated that “We the people of the Republic of Liberia were originally the inhabitants of the United States of North America”.
Was Liberia Created as a Religious State?
It is no secret that Liberia was founded by people who professed Christianity. Probably all the eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians. The declaration itself was signed in the country’s oldest church - Providence Baptist Church. Did the ceremony take place in the church because of the founders’ intention to create a religious state?
Or was it held there simply because that was the most decent building in Ducor (Monrovia) at the time? The 1847 Constitution mentions the word Christian once. It mentions God four times. God is mentioned three times in the preamble and once in Article One. The only mention of Christian occurs in Article One. Crucially, though, the 1847 Constitution clearly stated that all persons should be allowed without hindrance to practice their religions.
It made it illegal for religious testing to be used to recruit government workers. The religious freedom provision in the 1847 Constitution was largely analogous to Article 14 of the current Liberian Constitution. Like the previous document, it said that there shall be no state religion and religious tests were not allowed to recruit government workers.
Article One Section 3rd of the 1847 Constitution stated that “All men have a natural and inalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, without obstruction molestation from others: all persons demeaning themselves peaceably, and not obstructing others in their religious worship, are entitled to the protection of law, in the free exercise of their own religion; and no sect of Christians shall have exclusive privileges or preference, over any other sect; but all shall be alike tolerated: and no religious test whatever shall be required as qualification for civil office, or the exercise of any civil right.” Emphasis added.
The above provision shows that the intent of the framers of the 1847 Constitution was not to create a religious state. The framers even took the pains to make it clear that no Christian sect shall have exclusive privileges or preference in the country.
Though the 1847 Constitution did not in any way declare Liberia a religious state, let alone a Christian state, many pseudo-intellectuals have stuck to their guns that the country’s first constitution actually declared it a Christian state.
These individuals who are sometimes religious fanatics have steadfastly refused to read the document on which they premise that argument with any levels of comprehension, but yet they have continued to claim that it declared the country a Christian state. These people ought to know that it is un-Christian to deliberately lie.
Religious Covenant and the Law
Some of these people have veered their arguments off into a different direction to claim that it was President Joseph Jenkins Roberts who made a religious covenant during his first inauguration to make the country a Christian state. Hence, they posit that Mr. Robert’s purported action made the country a Christian state.
This is patently ludicrous! If for the sake of allowing the conversation to flow, the rest of Liberia agrees that Mr. Roberts indeed made this covenant, the issue remains whether he had the moral or legal authority to turn the country into a religious entity outside the law. If one person’s action were what it would have required to chart the course of the country, there was going to be no need for a constitutional process to be followed with the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of a plebiscite of some sorts.
Further, for the sake of the argument, considering that Mr. Roberts was a United Methodist, was the covenant meant for the whole of Liberian Christianity or just his own sect? Perhaps, the United Methodist Church should start claiming ownership of the country! The Constitution as was agreed in 1847 clearly discouraged religious preferences in Liberia. It even made it clear that no religion or sect should be given any special privileges.
The Flaws in Transforming 21st Century Li beria into a Christian State
In recent years some evangelical clergymen and their political cohorts have embarked upon a campaign to make Liberia a Christian State. These people have diagnosed the country’s problems as being the result of it veering away from its religious intent.
They have ascribed the high levels of poverty, corruption and lack of progress not to the clear failures in leadership which characterize Liberia but to God’s anger. This simpleminded attribution has unfortunately appealed to a mass of misguided people. Many Liberians like shortcuts.
This has made a lot of people to gravitate to a very dangerous quest without much thought. Since the pastors driving the religious program promised instant prosperity many have jumped on the bandwagon.
These bandwagonists have not sat back to give due consideration to the conflict potential of their quest to make the country belong to one of the two dominant religions in the country. Some of these people have said that they are only interested in giving the country a religious identity and not infringing on other people’s religious rights.
As benign as this seems, it has a potential for conflict all over it. What would be the population’s response when the blessing they have been promised fail to materialize after the declaration that Liberia is a Christian state is inserted in the constitution? The likely excuse when that situation plays itself out - which it will - would be to blame the problem on the acceptance and practice of other religions in the country. The new move would then be to rid the country of religious practices deemed as preventing the attainment of the promised magical prosperity. That would then open the floodgates of violence on the basis of religion.
Changing the Constitution Unconstitutionally
The current Liberian Constitution at chapter twelve has laid down procedures for effecting an amendment. This process has only two routes: 10,000 people petitioning the legislature which has to vote by two thirds of each House of the legislature to allow the petition to go to a referendum; and the legislature by itself voting by two-thirds of each House to trigger a referendum.
There is nowhere in the Liberian Constitution where the president is allowed to submit constitutional amendments to the legislature. On this basis alone, the last attempt at changing provisions of the current constitution was illegal. The same illegality applies to the current review process and what has emerged from it. Both these processes have come out of a direct action of the president in setting up structures to propose amendments to the constitution.
This is unconstitutional and should be abandoned! Some may argue that the People’s Redemption Council did the same thing when it commissioned the Sawyer committee to draft the current constitution. This argument will be hugely flawed because the Sawyer committee arose out of a constitutional vacuum.
No such vacuum existed in 2011 and now. Finally, the originators of the Christian state have actually not put any valid proposal forward. If their proposal is accepted and the Constitution is amended to include their Christian state idea, the country will end up with a Constitution which contains at least two contradictory provisions.
Article 14 of the current Constitution,which is analogous to Article One Section 3rd of the 1847 Constitution, states in relevant parts that”...Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall have no state religion.” The Liberian Legislature has to step up to squarely take on their constitutional responsibility regarding amendments. The President also has to desist from taking on powers that the Constitution does not grant her.
Culled from The Capitol Insider