More on state and religion
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama was asked to clarify on prayers in schools or at public functions at the talanoa session at Ratu Cakobau House. At the session, after opening the Tailevu Provincial Council meeting last Tuesday, he said, the issue would be a campaign topic for certain political parties.
Those involved, he said, were making their own interpretations on the particular section of the constitution just to suit their own agendas.
He said that while he was the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, the RFMF was asked why it was conducting their church service in the presence of the chief of staff, Brigadier Mohammed Aziz. Brigadier Aziz is not a member of the Methodist Church.
The Prime Minister said under Fiji’s 2013 Constitution any individual has the right not to attend any prayer session. “If you belong to a different religous group and a prayer session is carried out by another group, then you have the right not to attend or be part of it,” he said. “This is clear under the constitution and this has been left out by political parties.”
A certain Jai Narayan, a parent at Suva Grammar School, had raised whether the action by the school, to carry out school devotions and prayers, is in breach of section 4(3) (b) and (c) of the 2013 Constitution of the Republic of the Fiji. The Fiji Sun sought the advice of prominent Suva lawyer, Nazat Shameem and below is her response:
“The basis of a declaration of a secular State is not that people are not free to practise their religion but that the State must not favour any one religion over others. In other words the Government must not be seen as being a Catholic government or a Methodist government or a Muslim government.
In Government schools care must be exercised that any prayer is multi-denominational so that Hindus and Catholics will not be excluded if the prayers are Muslim prayers or Methodist prayers. It is also true that any religious ceremony at Government schools will automatically exclude atheists who have a right to be atheists.
If there are prayer sessions at a Government office according to Muslim or Hindu or Christian rites then there is a risk that people will feel that non-attendance will lead to demotion, or lack of promotion at work.
However religious schools are not restricted in this way because they are not State institutions. Similarly with the Fiji Sun or any other media organisation which is not State- owned. Thus if the Fiji Sun decides that it will start the day with a Christian prayer, that is the choice of the Sun.
Section 22(4) of the Constitution specifically preserves the right of religious communities to establish and run schools and to teach religious instructions as part of its syllabus. However section 22(6) states that children of other faiths have the right not to attend such religious instructions. Such schools, run by religious communities have the right to teach religion at the schools whether or not they receive funding assistance from the State.”