State supports review of religious laws

Calls by the country’s largest Christian denomination to regulate the registration of religious groups have been supported by the Government.

General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma Reverend Jione Lagi made the call last week while expressing concern over the increasing number of religious sects that have sprung up all over the country.

Their doctrines and beliefs have been blamed by the church for the split and dissension experienced in some rural areas especially in villages.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Qoriniasi Bale has indicated that part of the Law Reform Commission’s work programme for the next few months included introducing new legislation that would tighten the loopholes in the Religious Bodies Registration Act Cap 68.

"It will include the consideration of the registration of religious bodies legislation we now have with the view of reviewing that," Mr Bale said.

"Now if we review that legislation what will come out of it is yet to be determined."

"I can’t, on one hand, reserve that subject for the commission for a review but on the other hand tell them what they should come up with because that is their job," Mr Bale said.

His comments are indicative of the Government’s determination to toughen, if not totally put a stop to, the ease with which religious groups - mainly from minor Christian denominations - establish themselves in Fiji.

Isolated cases of rifts within families and communities, resulting from clashes of religious doctrines and tradition, have been reported from time to time but the increasing incidents of its occurrence has raised eyebrows within the established churches like the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church.

While these churches would not admit it, it is understood that a major part of their concern is the loss of their members to these new groups and with it the loss of potential dollars that would normally go into their coffers.

The Minister for Justice has said that the existing Act needed a review "for the reason that there is far too many religious bodies and religions in the country".

Whether too many religious bodies is good or bad for Fiji we can’t be sure, but one thing is definite and that is more and more members of the established churches are leaving in numbers for the other ones that offer alternative vibrant styles of worship.