Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said laws should not be made to restrict the freedom of worship in the country.
In his keynote address at the “First National Judicial Roundtable on The Intersection between Law and Religion” at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja on Monday, Osinbajo averred that the protection of freedom of worship and the practice of one’s beliefs was crucial especially in a democratic society.
“Those laws according to the Nigerian Constitution where they restrict freedom of worship, must be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.
“Or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons. “It is this test that restrictive laws should satisfy every law that seeks to restrict religious freedom, that is, is this legislation reasonably justifiable in a democratic society for the protection of one of the listed public goods?
“The crucial question with respect to such laws is whether they should be allowed to exercise prior-restraint?
“For example should there be licensing of places of worship or the dissemination of religious information? Or should the laws punish offending conduct when it occurs, such as the dissemination of hate speech?
“Is it reasonably justifiable in a democratic society to make laws that restrict freedom of speech by the fact that it says you must seek permission before you can make certain types of public utterances?”
Osinbajo noted that prior-restraint “is open to abuse, will unduly restrict freedom of worship and is probably unconstitutional”.
He acknowledged that freedom of speech is not only a fundamental right (in its own right) but it is also the vehicle for the realisation of other rights.
However, Osinbajo said that the laws must be enforced to punish offensive conduct such as the dissemination of hate speech or the perpetration of unlawful acts under the guise of religious beliefs. The vice president emphasized that courts must be more careful to maintain their neutrality in the trial of such matters.