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Pacific News Minute: Church-State Confrontation in Samoa

Michael Coghlan

A confrontation between church and state looms in Samoa, where the largest church in the country says its ministers will not obey a new law that requires them to pay income tax.

According to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the issue is simple. Samoa’s parliament passed a law late last year. After a six-month notification period, it takes effect on June 30th, and that’s that.

In one of his weekly radio programs, the Prime Minister said no government under the sun sets up a law, and then waits until some people agree with it.

The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa see things differently.

In May, the reverend Vavatau Taufao, the Church’s General Secretary, convened a general assembly which voted to reject the law. Effectively declaring that the government lacks the authority to override the church on what it sees as a matter of religious principle.

Reporters were not allowed into the meeting, but the Sunday Samoan obtained a recording, where a senior minister declared that church ministers should never pay taxes and that the government’s decision would lead to its downfall.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Prime Minister Tuilaepa fired back in a speech to Parliament: The church, he said, was putting a gun to the Government’s head. Church ministers were driving flashy cars, he said, creating traffic jams, but don’t want to contribute to the construction and maintenance of the roads. He noted that other churches are prepared to comply.

And if Parliament gives in, he warned that the integrity and finality of its laws would then be open to question. 

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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