Clar­i­fi­ca­tion needed from min­istry on religion in schools

Fiji Sun - - Comment - NEMANI DELAIBATIKI Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fi­

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

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