Secularism and Separation of Church from State: Where Do We Draw The Line? by Dr. Leonard Sowah

Africa Constitution cultural sensitivity government and politics religion Secularism in Ghana

My country of birth has been described as one of the most religious countries in the world
. This is a crown that most Ghanaians wear proudly, whilst others would gladly avoid any mention of that.  On that account one can understand why an elected President of Ghana would consider building a national cathedral to be a priority for his country. This is a national edifice that is supposed to be non-denominational however I wonder what other religious groups think about this venture. On this I do not have to look very far. The Coalition of Moslem Organisations (COMOG) has rightfully stated their opposition to this violation of the country’s constitution. Ghana’s 1992 Constitution protects the rights of minority religions and faiths and precludes the state providing any financial assistance to any religious groups. Per Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo the National Cathedral project is going to be funded by the religious community in this case the Christian community which I consider very laudable but the proposed site already has several buildings some of them housing government workers and were only built 5 years ago. That land has a monetary value which some have quoted at about $40 million. This cost includes the relocation of the original occupants of this site, that is a financial cost that the state cannot constitutionally provide to the religious community.

A picture of the proposed Cathedral at dusk.

While Ghana is constitutionally a secular state, the Christian faith dominates every aspect of religious and national life. The impact of christianity on Ghanaian politics sometimes does infringe on article 56 of the 1992 Constitution by seeming to elevate Christianity to the status of a state religion. State support of the building of this National Cathedral does infringe on that article of the constitution a fact I should not be the one reminding the President an attorney at law and a prior Attorney General of the Republic of Ghana.

In Ghana today a private citizen one James Kwabena Bomfeh has challenged the building of the national cathedral in the courts. Mr. Bomfeh sees this action as an attempt by the state to make the country a Christian Nation. In the meantime many occupants of the buildings that are supposed to be torn down to make way for the national cathedral have been served notices of eviction. Some of the buildings affected include the Scholarship Secretariat, Passport Office at Ridge, Judicial Training School and nine bungalows occupied by Appeals Court Judges.  Most opposition at this time is mostly targeted at the need to demolish these buildings to make way for the Cathedral. If the government’s word is anything to go by that is where the constitutional challenges to this building has the most support.

Washington National Cathedral, believed to be the inspiration for President Akuffo-Addo’s dream to build a National Cathedral in Accra

“P1070122” by marnievaughan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The government also mentioned that grants are going to be used to assist in building this cathedral, another area where clarity as to who is the recipient of the grant. If the grant is  provided to the government of Ghana then it cannot be used in the building of the Cathedral alternatively if provided to the Christian Council of Ghana or a similar religious body then there should not be any problems with that.

At this time though the people of Ghana, have to decide whether the building of a cathedral which I must admit looks beautiful and would be definitely an architectural masterpiece in a central location in Accra, trumps strict adherence to their constitution. If the State does go ahead and builds the Cathedral at the proposed site this would be a major precedent in the constitutional proclamation of religious freedom in Ghana.

Other religious groups would also expect similar support in their projects a situation that would not bode well for a country struggling to maintain a stable constitutional government.

The decision must be made by the people of Ghana who are the rightful custodians of their constitution.


Dr. Leonard Sowah is an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland 


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan