THREE weeks after the 2013 Constitution received presidential approval, the head of the Catholic Church in Fiji, Archbishop Peter Chong, has expressed concern about the provision of the documents that states "religious belief is personal".
Interpreting this clause of the Constitution, Archbishop Chong said the government had somehow silenced the church and deprived the people of the right to pursue religious truth in the public sphere.
The archbishop said as a church leader the issue was of major concern because it would limit the church on a personal level, thus rendering it voiceless and giving it no opportunity to make contributions to society.
He said world-renowned religious groups such as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians want to share their truth and help people through their faith to work towards a common truth.
Chapter one of the 2013 Constitution states religious liberty, as recognised in the Bill of Rights, is a founding principle of the state.
It also says that religious belief is personal.
Archbishop Chong said although religious belief or faith was a personal matter, it also had a public nature.
"Although faith or religion is a personal matter it also has a public nature regardless of whether you are a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian," he said.
"When we have a claim to the truth, we want to put in a public sphere so people can benefit from that truth we've found.
"That is the nature of faith and when God reveals himself, people are then sent to God to receive his revelation.
"Every religion has a truth to uphold and claim because we believe God reveals himself through our religious symbols."
Archbishop Chong said this was what inter-religious dialogue, inter-faith search and the Ecumenical movement were based on because of the public character of religious belief. "We theologists are the best people to interpret or explain this."
The archbishop further explained that if the church wanted to speak about human rights in the public sphere, it would be seen to be violating the Constitution under this provision.
He said when people were deprived of their rights and beliefs they would be confused, therefore placing limits on their freedom to express themselves.
Archbishop Chong said when a religion was limited to a personal matter "you are infringing on people's right to freedom of expression".
This, he said, contradicted the Bill of Rights clauses in the 2013 Constitution which uphold this freedom. "This is why we want to put our message out to the public because we value this truth."