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Judge orders public schools to exempt SDA students in row over Sabbath

By Pamela Chepkemei
Updated Tue, May 28th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
Alliance High School has denied claims it doesn’t accord SDA students the right to freedom of worship and religion. [Photo: File/Standard]

By Pamela Chepkemei

Nairobi, Kenya: Secondary school students who subscribe to Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church are exempt from weekend classes thanks to a landmark order by a judge hearing a dispute over Sabbath.

High Court Judge Isaac Lenaola directed all public secondary schools in the country to allow SDA faithful students to skip classes from Friday evening through Saturday in fulfilment of the obligation to their faith.

The order was made after the Seventh Day Adventist Church (East Africa) Limited filed a petition seeking a relaxation of the rules for SDA student worship while a case between them and Ministry of Education progresses in court.

The Church approached the Ministry last year to resolve the matter but the Government failed to act on the complaints, according to the Church.

The Government promised to issue a circular to all the principals of public schools asking them to respect the right to freedom of religion but it was never done.

Consequently, the Church decided to file a case to safeguard the fundamental rights of all students subscribing the SDA doctrine.

The Church has accused 25 public schools of violating the fundamental rights of SDA students studying in those learning institutions.

It claims the complaints by Adventist students of being bullied and harassed are replicated across all public schools countrywide.

It was alleged SDA students at public high schools are harassed, intimidated and discriminated against on account of their religious beliefs.

Denied rights

The court issued interim orders restraining principals, administrators and Board of Governors of all public schools from preventing SDA students from worshipping during the hours between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday pending the hearing and determination of the petition.

“All principals, administrators and BoGs of all public high schools be and are hereby restrained from in any manner whatsoever, preventing or impeding SDA students attending the schools in question from conducting worship during the hours between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday,” said the judge.

The Church has named the minister for Education and the Attorney General as the respondents.

Already Alliance Boys’ High School, one of the learning institutions accused by the Church, has been allowed to join the proceedings of the case as an interested party.

The school told Justice Lenaola it was apprehensive that adverse orders would be issued against it before it was heard.

Religious beliefs

The school is among 25 others that have been cited by the Church as having forced students to study or sit exams on Friday evenings and Saturdays in disregard of their religious beliefs. Other schools accused of discriminating against SDA students are Limuru Girls’, Kenya High, Alliance Girls’, Alliance Boys’, Precious Blood Riruta and Sunshine secondary schools.

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