Clarification needed from ministry on religion in schools
The internal row over a prayer group that has put Ratu Kadavulevu School in Lodoni, Tailevu, on the spotlight, has raised some crucial questions.
The first is of course the choice of students to join a religion of their choice when they are on the school campus. Do they have a right to choose which church they go to on Sunday or do they attend the school-sanctioned religious service? Boarding schools like RKS and Queen Victoria School traditionally have a chaplain who usually comes from the Methodist Church. Other mainstream churches recognise this arrangement because they know that students need spiritual nourishment to complement their academic studies. The support has been made easier because the church teachings are basically similar.
But recently challenges have arisen with the proliferation of small churches, many are breakaway groups from mainstream churches.
The teachings are different and clashes are inevitable. What makes it more complicated in this RKS case, is that teachers are also allegedly involved. More than 60 students and at least three teachers are part of this controversial prayer group, Self Support Ministry, according to its leader, Jone Biutilodoni. He said they joined his group on their own accord, or free will and choice. No one was coerced, he said. Are they allowed to make this choice on school compound?
Is the answer to this question consistent with the provisions of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, which is the supreme law in this country? Administering a boarding school is not an easy task, especially when you are dealing with students coming together from a diverse background. Add to that their religious beliefs and affiliation and you get a potent mix. The big challenge is to maintain social cohesion and unity. The Sunday church service is a medium where this solidarity is experienced and developed. But when you get as many as more than 60 students and some teachers peeling off to join a separate prayer group, it can be perceived as divisive and even regarded as rebellious. This may be the dilemma facing the school management. If they allow students to pursue their own religious beliefs in the school compound, it could upset school programmes and cause chaos. The Self Support Ministry, the name for the prayer group, holds its church service on Saturday which is its Sabbath. Other Christian churches hold their main service on Sunday. The main RKS church service is on Sunday. So the clash was bound to happen. There are other big differences like the wearing of clothes and living a health code. The prayer group can be seen as a threat to the school church service. Misunderstanding over the differences has inflamed feelings, and raised tension to the point that three teachers have been transferred to other schools by the Ministry of Education for their alleged involvement. The ministry should put out a statement clarifying the policy on religion in schools, particularly public schools. At the moment there seems to be some confusion. Does the school have complete control of all activities including religious events on its compound? Can students join religious groups of their choice or should they tow the school line?
The sooner this is done, the better it is for everyone.
There will be skeptics, but you have to beleive in it (Natadradave healing waters). If you don’t then it won’t work for you. Sitiveni Rabuka SODELPA leader and former prime minister