In the mid-1980s more than half of all Liberians adhered to indigenous religions or to concepts and practices largely rooted in such beliefs. Of the rest, there were thought to be roughly as many Muslims as Christians. The latter were divided among a large number and wide variety of denominations.
Until the end of the first republic, official and semiofficial documents and statements referred to Liberia as a Christian state, a reflection of the Protestantism of the largely AmericoLiberian elite and the members' understanding of what it meant to be civilized. The early settlers and their descendants were divided among several Protestant denominations, however, and the constitution of the first republic stipulated that no specific church would be given preference by the state. It also provided for the free exercise of any religion. Despite the Protestant affiliation of virtually all the elite and subelite, the political leaders of the first republic noted its "appreciation" of Roman Catholicism and its contribution to the country. They also made a point of formal friendliness to Islam, a dominant or significant religion in several neighboring states and important in Liberian ethnic groups (the Vai and the Mandingo) deemed to be advanced by AmericoLiberians.
Despite the social importance of membership in mainline Protestant denominations notwithstanding, active participation in and commitment to the official values of Christian churches was thought to have diminished substantially among many of the elite. Church attendance and other indicators of devotion were still important among older Americo?Liberians and in isolated orculturally conservative Americo-Liberian enclaves. Passion and commitment were more likely to be shown by Christians of tribal origin, especially, but not exclusively, by those who were members of indigenous African churches (of which there were more than 50) and other fundamentalist groups.
In its preamble, the new Constitution, accepted in a nationwide referendum in July 1984, acknowledges Liberians' "devout gratitude to God" for the country's existence as a free and sovereign state and asserts Liberia's reliance on "His Divine Guidance" for its survival. The nature of the deity is left unspecified, however, and Chapter 3 ("Fundamental Rights") of the document entitles all to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It explicitly denies preference for any denomination or sect, forbids religious tests for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil rights, and insists that the republic shall not establish a state religion.
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