Update (Mar. 20, 2013): Advocates presented a petition with 700,000 signatures to Liberia's legislature this week.

A controversial clergy-led campaign to officially return Liberia to its Christian heritage has sparked debate in the West African nation.

Liberia was founded under the "blessings of the Christian religion" by freed American slaves in 1847, but became a secular state following a 1980 military coup and subsequent civil war. In April, an international tribunal convicted former president Charles Taylor, once supported by Pat Robertson, of crimes against humanity.

Today a group of pastors called the Liberia Restoration to Christian Heritage Committee has stirred up popular momentum to add Christianity back to the constitution—similar to Zambia, a "Christian nation" since 1996.

The Liberian Council of Churches has remained tight-lipped about its opinion, but vice president W. Nah Dixon, archbishop of Don Stewart Pentecostal Church, has appealed to pastors to stop collecting signatures. He worries that imposing a state religion could refuel civil conflict in a nation with a sizable Muslim minority (12 percent). Catholic, Baptist, and Lutheran leaders have echoed his concerns.

Another umbrella group of pastors, the Fellowship of Full Gospel Ministers (FGM), has divided over the issue. One camp dismisses the Christian heritage campaigners as a small group seeking publicity; the other sympathizes but says well-established organizations—such as the FGM—should have been the ones to champion the cause.

The campaigners argue for a state religion based on Liberia's present—Christians make up 85 percent of its 3.8 million people—and its past. The country's ...

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