Opinion

EDITORIAL: Constitution Protects Religious Freedom

We are blessed in Fiji that we enjoy religious freedom and tolerance. The Constitution guarantees that we are free to practise our religion provided we do not impose it on
21 Aug 2017 10:08
EDITORIAL: Constitution Protects Religious Freedom
Students of Nasavusavu Public School enjoying facilities in their playground after the official opening in Savusavu, Vanua Levu. Photo:SUPPLIED

We are blessed in Fiji that we enjoy religious freedom and tolerance.

The Constitution guarantees that we are free to practise our religion provided we do not impose it on others.

It is therefore a matter of serious concern that the Methodist Church has publicly stated that it wants all church school heads be Methodists to protect the church values at its educational institutions.

Both the Permanent Secretary for Education Iowane Tiko and Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum have spoken out and clarified the issue.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum says it is not constitutionally possible to accede to the request from the Methodist Church for all principals and head teachers at its schools to be Methodists.

That applies to all religious organisations which have schools. While they may have the right to own and manage schools, no such community has a right to dictate who should be appointed principal or head teacher.

Except for a handful of private schools, all other schools are funded by taxpayers money.

So with public funding it is important to note that it is in the best interest of students first and foremost to have the most qualified head of school irrespective of his religion and race.

If that person is a Methodist then it’s fine.

Under the Constitution it is mandated that recruitment and promotion in the civil service must be based solely on merit.

Many parents and students, if asked, would say they prefer the best teachers and school heads because they value education.

It is alarming that some church schools have tried to convert their head teachers and principals to their religion as a condition of staying on in the schools.

One school head, a Hindu, told the Fiji Sun that he was managing a Christian school.

He had to leave the school because of this pressure.

He joined a Muslim school and they welcomed him with open arms.

He has five more years before retiring but imagine the Christian school students missing out on his wealth of knowledge, skills and experience.

The other disturbing development is the Methodist Church saying it will not celebrate other religious festivals.

Such kinds of public statements sow seeds of religious intolerance.

What if a sizeable number of students are non-Methodists and organise their own celebrations in the school compound.

Will the church ban that as well?

The Constitution says religious communities and denominations have a right to provide religious instruction at those institutions, and students have a right not to participate if they choose not to.

It is worrying when anti-religious sentiments are being expressed in this way.

It shows that religious intolerance is rearing its ugly head again, reminiscent of the terrible events that plunged this nation into political turmoil before and after the 1987 military coups.

A columnist in the Opinion section of the Fiji Sun Weekend, Richard A Hunter, says freedom of religion ties us all together, including those who profess no religion.

He says “Consider an example from the West African country of Cameroon.

“Under threat of terrorist attacks, Christians and Muslim congregation took turns protecting each other.

“On Fridays, Christians guarded the mosques during community prayer and on Sundays Muslim congregations guarded the churches during worship services.

“Such reciprocity is vital because the majority and minority often traded places.

What is popular at one time becomes unpopular at another.

“Religious freedom that protects the little guy is also the best security for the big guy.

“Safety is not in numbers, safety is in justice.

“Alienation creates strangers and those strangers range the world in search of support.”

That’s why it is so important to promote religious tolerance by breaking the barriers that divide us.

It’s in all our interest that we take this on as our mission for the cause of peace.

Edited by Rusiate Mataika
Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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