Law News
‘Churches are regular offenders of physical planning laws’

The Lagos State Government said religious bodies rank high among violators of physical planning laws in the state.

The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, said the government has had to contend with a lot of controversies over the demolition of worship houses built in disregard of the physical planning laws in the state.

He stated that though Section 38 of the Constitution recognised the right of citizens to hold and practice their religious beliefs, such freedom, however, stopped where the rights of others might be infringed upon.

Fashola was the keynote speaker at an international symposium on law and religion held at the Main Auditorium, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos State.

The symposium with the theme “Towards Law and Religious Freedom in Africa” was jointly organised by faculty of Law, UNILAG; the Ikeja and Lagos branches of the Nigerian Bar Association; the African Consortium for Law and Religious Studies and the International Centre for Law and Religious Studies.

While emphasising that section 126 of the Lagos State Criminal Law makes it a criminal offence for anyone to unlawfully disturb a gathering or meetings of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship, Fashola, however, said the law equally placed a responsibility on religious bodies and their adherents to operate in respect of rights of other members of the society.

Fashola who spoke through the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, said, “Equally important is the responsibility of religious societies and their adherents. The fact is that the practice of religion may also bring adherents into conflicts with the law, if, for instance noise pollution or other disturbance to the neighborhood, assault, battery, child abuse, rape e.t.c. should occur. If such happenings come to our notice, we will prosecute the sect because they are contraventions of the law.

“Religious bodies are also known to be regular offenders of physical planning laws because so many churches have been demolished leading to so much controversy but the fact is that the laws of the land are binding on everybody. Religious bodies are also offenders of the tax law when they venture into business or investments for which they enjoy no immunity.”

The Governor also decried the exploitation of religion in politics in spite of the provision of the law that no state shall adopt any religion.

He said, “It has become apparent that notwithstanding the assurances against adoption of state religion, influential figures in the society still play the religion card whenever it suits their purpose and we are witnesses to the consequences of such.This usually manifests during electioneering processes, where religious beliefs of candidates rather than their competence, experience, integrity e.t.c. become dominant issue for consideration.”

Also speaking, a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivours pointed out that though the rights of individuals to hold and practice their religious belief is enshrined in the Constitution, yet while practicing such religion, citizens’ duties to the deities they worshipped came next to the duties they owed the sovereign political authority of the nation.

In establishing the relationship between law and religion, Rhodes-Vivours recalled that while law is a reflection of the moral norms and values of a given society, religion extolled morality, which plays an important role in regulating social relationships so as to ensure that social order is maintained.

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