Ghana

Last Updated 7 April 2021

Ghana is a West-African parliamentary democracy with a multi-party political system that is largely dominated by two parties — the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1957.1https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/ghana/#government

According to the latest census data (collected in 2010), approximately 71% of the population is Christian (residing throughout the country), 18% Muslim (mostly residing in the northern regions), 5% adheres to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs (mostly residing in rural areas), and 6% belongs to other religious groups or has no religious beliefs.2https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ghana/

Ghana has a reputation as one of the most democratic countries in Africa. Generally speaking, civil society organizations can operate freely, with the exception of LGBTI+ activists and organizations, who are frequently harassed and intimidated.

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Article 21(1) of the Constitution “freedom of thought, conscience and belief and the “freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice”. Article 17 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion.3https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/gh/gh014en.pdf The Constitution does not designate a State religion.

To receive formal recognition and status as a legal entity by the government, religious groups must register with the office of the registrar general in the justice ministry. Notwithstanding this provision, there is no penalty for failing to register.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ghana/ Most indigenous religious groups in Ghana do not register.

Registered churches are exempt from paying taxes on non-profit religious, charitable, and educational activities, but must pay taxes on income attributed to for-profit business activities, such as church-run private schools and universities.5https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/religious-bodies-agree-with-govt-to-pay-taxes.html

While Ghana is a secular State, there is a perception that religion and religious leaders have political influence. In 2017, the government approved a controversial plan to construct a National Cathedral, which will occupy 14 acres of State land and will be situated next to the Parliament building.6https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionglobalsociety/2019/01/the-politics-of-a-national-cathedral-in-ghana-a-symbol-of-a-corrupted-government-or-reaching-wakanda/ The government’s position is that the National Cathedral will serve as a symbol of Ghana’s future and its supporters have argued that it will be a space where “religion, democracy and local tradition are seamlessly and symbolically intertwined”.7https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/14/opinion/sunday/ghana-deserves-this-cathedral-dont-fight-it.html Critics of the project have questioned whether it is an appropriate use of public funds, and have argued that it symbolizes a worrying inter-mingling of politics and religion in an avowedly secular State with a population of mixed religions and beliefs.8https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/site-work-begins-ghanas-controversial-national-cat/

The State also pays for Muslims to attend the Hajj, and has a National Hajj Board to oversee the process.9https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/National-Hajj-Board-touts-2018-achievements-713050

In 2019, a constitutional challenge against the construction of the National Cathedral and the setting up of the Hajj board was brought by a local politician, James Bomfeh, who argued that both measures are a violation of the secular character of Ghana’s Constitution and the duty of the State to respect equality and uphold religious neutrality. 

Bomfeh’s case was dismissed by the Supreme Court, who found that the Constitution did not specifically prohibit the Government from “supporting, assisting or cooperating with religious groups.” Instead, the Supreme Court argued that the letter and spirit of the Constitution only forbid the State from “hindering freedom of worship, religion and belief in the country and discrimination on grounds of religion.”10https://ghanalawhub.com/a-secular-state-and-the-national-cathedral/; https://africanlii.org/article/20190207/secularism-ghana-%E2%80%9Cobviously%E2%80%9D-encourages-state-accommodation-religion-and-religious

Education and children’s rights

In Ghana’s national public education curriculum, religious and moral education is a mandatory requirement. These courses embody perspectives from both Islam and Christianity.

In 1987, the government set up an Islamic Education Unit within the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for the integration of a standardized secular curriculum in traditional Islamic schools.11https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=ohiou1493120256728132&disposition=inline

Despite the government directive requiring schools to respect students’ religious practices, members of the Muslim community report that some publicly-funded Christian schools require students to participate in Christian worship services and for female Muslim students to remove their hijabs.12news.wypr.org/post/prayer-ghana-s-public-schools-sparks-debate; http://jiscnet.com/journals/jisc/Vol_4_No_2_December_2016/1.pdf

In 2019, the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values (comprising the Christian council, traditional leaders, the Catholic Bishops Conference, Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Atta Mills Institute, Coalition of Muslim Organisations and others) blocked proposals to introduce comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in Ghanaian schools, arguing that this would indoctrinate children with the “LGBTI+ agenda”.13https://allafrica.com/stories/201910110414.html

Family, community and society

Treatment of humanists

Humanists and atheists in Ghana are a small minority. Many atheists in Ghana are afraid to openly express their beliefs due to fear of persecution. However, the profile of humanism is slowly growing thanks to the work of a group of outspoken atheists, freethinkers and sceptics who form the Humanists Association of Ghana. In 2012, the group organized Ghana’s first ever humanist conference, which brought together humanists from around the world to concentrate on issues relevant to the advancement of humanism in the country.14https://humanists.international/2012/12/international-conference-west-african-humanism-in-action-accra-ghana-23-25-november-2012/ A second conference was organized in 2014 on the theme of “African Youth for Science and Reason”.15https://www.modernghana.com/news/585317/humanist-fellowship-in-ghana.html

LGBTI+ rights

Section 104 of Ghana’s Criminal Code (1960) criminalizes consensual “unnatural carnal conduct”, a clause which is interpreted by law enforcement to mean same-sex relations. The provision is used to threaten, arrest and punish LGBTI+ individuals, though actual prosecutions are rare.16https://ilga.org/downloads/stakeholders_report_Ghana_UPR28.pdf

Anti-LGBTI+ hate crime and societal discrimination is prevalent in Ghana, and is widely condoned by the media, public officials and religious figures.17https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-56325310 For example, in 2020, opposition MP Dr. Hanna Luisa Bissiw, stated that “homosexuality is a disease” and suggested LGBTI+ people should be euthanized; and an Imam described homosexuality as an “evil that must not be countenanced in any way because it is despised by God”. In 2018, Head Pastor of Osu Church of Christ, Kofi Tawiah stated “homosexuality is considered as a capital offence which is abominable and is accompanied by capital punishment.”18https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/ghana/

Ghana’s first LGBTI+ community support center and safe house opened in January 2021, but was forced to close 3 months later after being illegally raided by the police and facing pressure from religious lobby groups, the Catholic Church of Ghana, and members of the government. The founding members of the center reported being threatened and fearing for their safety.19https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210308-ghana-s-emerging-lgbt-movement-battles-with-hostility In March 2021, 22 people were arrested and detained at an event that was falsely claimed by officials to be a “lesbian wedding”.20https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2021/03/30/ghana-lesbian-wedding-police-raid-african-equality-centre-viral-video-covid-19/

Harmful traditional practices

Belief in witchcraft and witchcraft-related persecution threatens the lives, safety and rights of women, the elderly, people with disabilities and children in Ghana. Those who hold witchcraft beliefs in Ghana tend to view witches as the embodiment of evil and witchcraft as a malevolent force.21https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-annals-of-criminology/article/superstition-that-maims-the-vulnerable-establishing-the-magnitude-of-witchcraftdriven-mistreatment-of-children-and-older-women-in-ghana/5741AA595761145B301BC0B93EEFF8E2

As Leo Igwe, founder of Advocacy for Alleged Witches (an organization campaigning against witchcraft-related abuse in African countries), writes:

“In northern Ghana, thousands of women have been expelled to witch camps,22https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/news/women-accused-witchcraft-ghana-find-refuge-outpost-run-sisters accused due to anything from disputes over property to explaining away illness or general misfortune. Simply put, persons who are accused of witchcraft are denied their basic humanity and human rights.

[In Ghana], witch persecution has been linked to the activities of churches, pastors and mallams and to strands of Africanised Christianity and Islam. Christian missionary groups may convert alleged witches or perform exorcisms, which can threaten the lives and health of the victims.”23https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/5616/call-witchcraft-belief-in-africa-by-its-name-superstition

Self-styled pastors, prophets and ‘spiritualists’ capitalize on the fear of witchcraft in Ghana to enrich themselves financially, including through the selling of anti-witchcraft antidotes (such as holy water, anointing oil, anti-witchcraft cream, protection stickers, etc), while Christian pastors (particularly of the Pentecostal church) make money from identifying “witches” and performing “exorcisms” on children in particular.24https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-annals-of-criminology/article/superstition-that-maims-the-vulnerable-establishing-the-magnitude-of-witchcraftdriven-mistreatment-of-children-and-older-women-in-ghana/5741AA595761145B301BC0B93EEFF8E2

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and assembly, and these rights are generally respected in practice. 

Ghana has a lively and diverse media presence that includes state and privately owned television and radio stations, multiple independent newspapers and magazines. However, the Ghanaian government has also been known to harass and detain journalists reporting on politically sensitive topics, such as anti-corruption investigations.25https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/how-free-ghanas-media

Ghana constitutionally guarantees and generally respects the right to peaceful assembly and association. Thousands of active civil society organizations operate freely and play an imperative role in guaranteeing government accountability and transparency in the country.26https://blog.philanthropy.iupui.edu/2020/07/17/ghanaian-civil-society-west-africas-shining-democratic-star/

Testimonies

 “I think the thing that bugs me the most about Christianity in Ghana is the common assumption that everyone is Christian, coupled with the added assumption that if you are not Christian (i.e. ‘saved by the blood’), then you are evil, or at best, misguided and so must be rescued from yourself. Once you’ve been in this ‘game’ (of debating creationists and other such religious extremists, not so much to de-convert them as to make sure there IS debate and not just the appearance of a consensus) for a while, you realise that the theists don’t believe atheism exists.

They think we’ve just chosen to worship something else as our god. And if you can convince them that we really don’t worship anything, they assume that therefore we have no morality. It really is most vexing. Since letting go of Christianity years ago, I finally feel free and healthy and sane, and I honestly have never been happier. Anyway, I’m sure my “de-conversion” story is almost cliché by now.”

— Justice

“Eventually, I came to the conclusion that, I couldn’t take the fiction and I had to be honest, at least with myself. I owed me that. At that time, everything I believed unfolded before me. I felt like I was looking over the edge of an abyss. I could not continue believing. Unbearable cognitive dissonance finally pushed me over the edge.

“I couldn’t tell my mum or my sisters. But I saw and still see the pain and hurt in their eyes because I won’t go to church and I don’t do anything religious — Once I made the comment that the doctrine of heaven was for the coward, the poor and the ignorant, and that I couldn’t believe in that! I saw tears in my sister’s eyes.

“And so I came to the stark realization that most of the things that were to affect my life the most, and which I have learnt from the people around me were, to be precise, illogical. They were nonsense!

“I decided to free my mind and live my life. It’s the only one I have. I couldn’t gamble with it. And the air I breathe is oh, so refreshing…”

— Paa Nii

The above Testimonies, from ghanahumanists.wordpress.com/personal-journeys/, are used with permission.

References

1 https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/ghana/#government
2, 4 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ghana/
3 https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/gh/gh014en.pdf
5 https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/religious-bodies-agree-with-govt-to-pay-taxes.html
6 https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionglobalsociety/2019/01/the-politics-of-a-national-cathedral-in-ghana-a-symbol-of-a-corrupted-government-or-reaching-wakanda/
7 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/14/opinion/sunday/ghana-deserves-this-cathedral-dont-fight-it.html
8 https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/site-work-begins-ghanas-controversial-national-cat/
9 https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/National-Hajj-Board-touts-2018-achievements-713050
10 https://ghanalawhub.com/a-secular-state-and-the-national-cathedral/; https://africanlii.org/article/20190207/secularism-ghana-%E2%80%9Cobviously%E2%80%9D-encourages-state-accommodation-religion-and-religious
11 https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=ohiou1493120256728132&disposition=inline
12 news.wypr.org/post/prayer-ghana-s-public-schools-sparks-debate; http://jiscnet.com/journals/jisc/Vol_4_No_2_December_2016/1.pdf
13 https://allafrica.com/stories/201910110414.html
14 https://humanists.international/2012/12/international-conference-west-african-humanism-in-action-accra-ghana-23-25-november-2012/
15 https://www.modernghana.com/news/585317/humanist-fellowship-in-ghana.html
16 https://ilga.org/downloads/stakeholders_report_Ghana_UPR28.pdf
17 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-56325310
18 https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/ghana/
19 https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210308-ghana-s-emerging-lgbt-movement-battles-with-hostility
20 https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2021/03/30/ghana-lesbian-wedding-police-raid-african-equality-centre-viral-video-covid-19/
21, 24 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-annals-of-criminology/article/superstition-that-maims-the-vulnerable-establishing-the-magnitude-of-witchcraftdriven-mistreatment-of-children-and-older-women-in-ghana/5741AA595761145B301BC0B93EEFF8E2
22 https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/news/women-accused-witchcraft-ghana-find-refuge-outpost-run-sisters
23 https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/5616/call-witchcraft-belief-in-africa-by-its-name-superstition
25 https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/how-free-ghanas-media
26 https://blog.philanthropy.iupui.edu/2020/07/17/ghanaian-civil-society-west-africas-shining-democratic-star/

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