The covernment on Sunday said it is planning to start registering churches and mosques to stop them from being abused for either personal gain or to cause insecurity.
Good intentions notwithstanding, religious groups will be uncomfortable with such a decision because it suggests that the government wants to control religion.
On Sunday, State House said Attorney-General Githu Muigai had drafted regulations on registering and managing churches, mosques and temples.
The regulations will be handed over to a task force whose members will be named soon and whose responsibility will be to fine-tune them before they become law.
This means churches, mosques and temples will be required to meet specific conditions and abide by the proposed amendments to the Societies Act before they can be allowed to operate.
However, religious leaders yesterday warned the government against the decision, saying that the Constitution guarantees them freedom of worship.
“The #AG has proposed to the Govt (government) a framework for registration & management of religious communities,” the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit said through its twitter handle — PSCU_Digital.
The move comes in the wake of an expose about the exploits of Salvation and Healing Ministry preacher Victor Kanyari, who has been making money from his followers through fake miracles. According to the documentary, he used to ask his congregation to send Sh310 through mobile money transfer before they could receive prayers and miracles.
The government’s response also comes against the backdrop of increased radicalisation of youths in mosques, with the government warning that mosques would not be allowed to be used as breeding grounds for terrorists.
Responding to questions raised about Mr Kanyari, State House said Prof Muigai had submitted a list of requirements and conditions that religious organisations would meet before being cleared to operate.
It said all religious organisations would be required to prove their “transparency, accountability and spirituality” in order to be registered.
“#AG says churches, mosques and temples that reflects transparency, accountability and spirituality will be registered,” it said.
'WORK IN PROGRESS'
“A task force to advice on the amendment/overhaul of the societies act shall be announced soon,” the statement said.
Contacted Sunday, Prof Muigai said that the draft regulations were a “work in progress” and were an outcome of the public demand for government to do more to protect them from religious leaders whose credibility was in question.
“The idea of religious freedom is fundamental. However, it cannot be left without oversight. People want the government to do more,” he said.
Under the current regime, churches and mosques are registered as charities under the Societies Act. However, the advent of evangelical churches appears to have thrown a challenge to the government by making it impossible to draw a line between the spiritual side of the churches and the commercial aspect that accompanies them.
At the Coast, the infiltration of mosques by groups bent on radicalising the youth has undermined security and destroyed the local economy.
But the Evangelical Churches Alliance chairman, Bishop Mark Kariuki, former National Council of Church of Kenya (NCCK) boss Mutava Musyimi and Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao warned against government regulation of religion.
Bishop Kariuki, who spoke by phone, accused the government of interfering with freedom of worship even as he accused the Registrar of Societies of approving new churches without due diligence.
He said it was wrong to use pastor Kanyari as the reason to come down hard on churches that were working within the provisions of the law.
“One rotten tomato does not mean all tomatoes are rotten. If they go there, we will have a problem,” he said.
Sheikh Ngao warned that the planned regulation should not be used by the government to keep people from places of worship.
However, he condemned religious leaders who were using the Bible to extort money from their flock.