And I think it can be traced back to the beginning of the nation state. But more on this after a slight digression. The constitution of Kenya under Chapter 4 and article 32 provides for the following
- Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion
- Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, in public or in private, to manifest any religion or belief through worship, practice, teaching or observance, including observance of a day of worship.
- A person may not be denied access to any institution, employment or facility, or the enjoyment of any right, because of the person’s belief or religion
- A person shall not be compelled to act, or engage in any act, that is contrary to the person’s belief or religion
and I argue that these rights are absolute. They apply to a child or to an adult and as such any regulation by a private body that contravenes any of the provisions above is acting in violation of the supreme law and should be compelled to comply.
Formal & Western education in Kenya has its beginnings in mission schools run by the religious arm of the colonialists- or we shall just call them missionaries. The goal of this education- if we can call it education- was to create Christians out of Africans who hitherto had no religion, that is, no codified belief as seen in Christianity or Islam or any other ancient religion that codified their beliefs. When the colonial administration expanded the education curriculum, it was meant to create a semi educated labour force and administrators, but never thinkers. The curriculum included religious education/ instruction which I think we should call correctly as religious indoctrination. This did not change even post independence.
The religion problem in our schools and our education system in general is borne from the mistaken belief that religion is important in ethical formation of young people, that without it they will be lost to the devil or something close. Or maybe even join a cult. To address the religious discrimination going on in schools, it is not enough to quote the law, the root cause must be addressed. Those responsible for the formation of our children must first be made aware that religion is not a prerequisite for ethical behaviour. And on the contrary, religion provides a cover, many times for unethical conduct. Take the case of the president who does not miss an opportunity for public display of religiosity but I am not many people consider him an example of a virtuous man.
Why is this important? The Court of Appeal has ruled and I agree that learners shouldn’t be compelled to follow a school’s faith. I think this ruling has been long overdue. I recall having to attend Sunday service which was compulsory and one could be punished for dozing off during a boring sermon or for forgetting to bring a hymnal to the service regardless of what faith one belonged to. It was unjust. Still is unjust to force students to attend a prayer service. Attendance to church service should be optional and those students, who like me, don’t want to go to church should be left to their own devices, like private study or catching up with badly needed sleep!.
And I find the school’s demand, in the above case, to be outrageous. By arguing that it would have granted the nine learners reasonable religious accommodation by exempting them from the Friday Mass if they could prove that their faith was a genuinely held belief, the school administration is arguing that only their faith is a genuinely held belief and any other must be subject of proof. And one wonders where they got such powers? Being of no faith or of a different faith is not a subject of proof. It should be accepted prima facie.
There is need for civic education right from primary school. Children should grow up not only knowing algebra but also what rights and freedoms they have as citizens of the republic. What protections the constitution guarantees among other things. If we are going to address cults, then educational institutions cannot be grounds for indoctrination but must encourage free enquiry. Religious indoctrination should be removed from the curriculum and replaced with philosophy- age appropriate philosophy-. Let religious instruction be done in the hearth of the family home. And our schools be bastions of free thought and secular education. Or maybe I am wrong.