It’s official. Samoa is now a Christian state.
The bill to make this happen, the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2017, was passed in Parliament last week when all members of Parliament voted in favour of it.
But any suggestion the new law would endanger freedom of religion in Samoa has been immediately quashed by the Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff.
“The amendment did not amend, alter or change the rights of individuals within Samoa, to exercise their religious beliefs as they deem fit,” Lemalu said in a statement he issued the Samoa Observer.
“This individual right is outlined in Article 11 of the Constitution, ‘Freedom of Religion’ and it remains untouched.
“So while the national religion is now confirmed as Christianity, the individual freedom of religion of all citizens within our nation; remains intact.”
During the one-day Parliament session, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi moved a motion for the bill to be read for the final time and the motion was carried.
A total of 43 M.P.s supported the Constitutional amendment and no member opposed. The Bill will become an Act of Parliament upon assent by the Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi.
“The Constitutional Amendment is effectively a declaration placed within Article 1 of the Constitution, which is an Article that legally describes Samoa as a nation,” Lemalu said.
“It has confirmed Samoa’s national religion as reflective of our overall Christian beliefs and faith. This acknowledgement was always a part of our national character in sayings such as “Fa’avae I Le Atua Samoa” and in the acknowledgement of God, in the preamble of the Constitution.
“The Amendment has now taken the step of placing these acknowledgements of our Christian faith, within the body of the actual law itself.”
When the Bill was introduced, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said the Constitution’s reference to Christianity was only in the Preamble. This was inadequate, he said.
“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 on 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.