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Ash Wednesday school outrage

Dawn Gibson
Monday, February 18, 2013

A CONCERNED parent of Saint Anne's Primary School in Suva has raised her voice about what she has termed "religious discrimination" in school.

Patricia Mallam, who has a daughter in the named school, told this newspaper that she did not agree with the Catholic school forcing its students to attend mass if the child was not Catholic.

In a letter, the school informed parents that if they did not send their children to mass they should find another school.

"I had personally kept my daughter from attending the mass as we are non-Catholics and it is our basic human right to decide whether or not we partake in religious activities that are not our own," Ms Mallam said.

She said she did not know that doing so would warrant public embarrassment for her daughter and other students whose parents did the same thing.

"Other than this behaviour exhibiting absolute unprofessionalism, it is also very discriminatory," she added.

School headteacher Sister Akeneta said she made the decision because of the school's policy.

"I wrote a letter the day before Ash Wednesday explaining to parents that their children should come to church, even if they weren't receiving the ashes.

"We won't force you to be Catholic but I told the girls that if they were not going to come to mass, then they should find another school. I said that.

"The parent was angry but it's the school culture and policy, we even acknowledge 30 minutes of religious education every day," said the headteacher.

Human rights commissioner and Fiji Women's Crisis Centre executive director Shamima Ali said schools could not force religion on their students.

"If one opts for the school, there can be an understanding that the child attends but does not participate in rituals.

"The school can't force it, there is freedom of religion, check out the Bill of Rights Decree," said Ms Ali.