The government’s push to amend the Constitution to define Samoa as a Christian State could undermine freedom of religion.
That’s the opinion of the National University of Samoa’s Director of Samoan Studies, Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea.
Speaking to Radio New Zealand, he said he is unclear whether the Bill will guarantee religious freedom as the original Constitution intended.
He said the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No.2) reflects concerns about the influence of other religions.
"They are framing their concern about Islamism and so on in a very emotional way," Leasiolagi is quoted as saying.
"So the leaders of the main Christian denominations are more or less saying that we want to protect our turf but in order for us to air these concerns we are going to frame it in the context of what is happening in the world."
Leasiolagi said the Bill could give rise to discrimination and intolerance.
The bill was widely supported by Parliament when it convened last week.
According to the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016’s Explanatory Memorandum, the government aims to insert in the Constitution that Samoa is a Christian nation to declare the dominance of Christianity in Samoa.
During the second reading in Parliament, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said the Constitution’s reference to Christianity as it stands is only in the Preamble of the Constitution.
“The discussion of this bill is not new as it was introduced in our last Parliament sitting. And from that discussion, we saw how inadequate the Constitution was at the time. Inadequate in terms of how Samoa as a Christian State is not included in the body of the Constitution.
“Instead it is in the cover and the preamble of the Constitution, not within the body of the Constitution.
“This shows that it is not part of the Constitution. This does not stand in Court as it is not included in the body of the Constitution.”
Tuilaepa said he understood the main reason it wasn’t included in the body of the Constitution then was because there were no religious wars in Samoa when the Constitution was initially written. He said that perhaps our ancestors were not thinking about it at the time.
“This means that we have been misled all these years. And every time we say that Samoa is founded on God because it is in within our Constitution, God must’ve had a good laugh and thought that we have been fooling him.
“And it has been more than 50 years since we have been fooling God, because this is not in the body of our Constitution.
“That is exactly why the 47 members of our party (H.R.P.P) have decided to review and amend the Constitution to correct this.
“The main objective of the bill is that Samoa’s religious stance as a Christian nation may be firmly enshrined in the body of the Constitution.”
With the amendment, Tuilaepa said Christianity will no longer be at the Cover or the preamble of the Constitution. Rather it will become an integral part of the body of the Constitution.
“The phrase “Samoa is founded on God” will no longer be used. Instead, under the Constitution, it will be, “Samoa is a Christian nation founded of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Finally, Tuilaepa said that religious wars are a common occurrence throughout the world and it has resulted in some great civil wars within countries. Therefore, it is the Government’s duty to legislate accordingly, in efforts to avoid religious tensions in the future.