Do school devotions infringe on personal freedoms?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

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FOUNDED: January 21, 1937

PRINCIPAL (acting): A Coghiel

ADDRESS: 9 Skibo Avenue, Kingston 10

POPULATION: Over 1,700 students

THE separation of church and State is a controversial subject that has implications for all facets of society, including the education sector, where some of the arguments are whether mandatory attention and participation in devotions and other religious observances are in violation of students’ universal rights for religious freedom. We put this and other issues of religion, State and education to the head girl of a Catholic school, Holy Childhood High.

HEAD GIRL: Analyse Parchment

CAREER ASPIRATION: Political analyst/politician, entrepreneur and pharmacist

REASON: I developed an interest in politics when we had a grade nine social studies assignment in the form of a mini-general election, which I happened to win as prime minister. I love to debate on issues affecting people, especially young people, and to possibly develop solutions for these problems. I am a business and science student with a passion for helping others, which aligns me with my choice of entrepreneurship and pharmacy.

C&E: What are some of the religious mandatory activities at your school?

AP: At Holy Childhood High, it is customary for us to have general devotion from the main office at least three days of the week and class devotion on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We are also asked to pause each day for a ‘noon-day prayer’. All students are required to attend First Friday Mass each month. In addition, there are days of recollection for each grade level and these are days of reflection, prayer and praise.

C&E: Why do you think religion has so much influence at your school?

AP: Holy Childhood was founded by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of our Lady of Perpetual Help of Jamaica, commonly called The Blue Sisters. The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of our Lady of Perpetual Help are grounded by the Catholic faith and as such we have a heavy Christian influence. In addition, our school’s name, Holy Childhood High, was chosen by the Blue Sisters as a reflection of the holy childhood of Jesus Christ.

C&E: Do you think that the Ministry of Education should abolish devotion in public schools?

AP: I strongly oppose this. Devotion is a way of expressing gratitude to God for the many things He has done for us. Many are blessed and comforted by devotional exercises. It is very important that we have morning devotions to create that peaceful environment for meditation and thanksgiving just before we begin the day’s routine.

C&E: Don’t you think that forcing all students to participate in devotions is infringing on their right to religious freedom?

AP: If the key term ‘forcing’ is what we are analysing, then, yes, I would believe it is infringing on the right to religious freedom. However, I do not believe students are being forced to participate in devotional exercises. In my observations at this institution, those whose religious principles forbid public devotions are exempted from participation and are encouraged to simply be reverent and respectful during worship.

C&E: Do you think religion is important in school life?

AP: Religion is important in every aspect of life, especially in schools. I believe that religious beliefs and practices instill some form of discipline in students. As young people and students, religion plays an important role in helping us to make the right choices, to be respectful to others, and care for the environment. Here at Holy Childhood, we are taught the core values of simplicity, humility, prayerfulness, joyfulness, and accountability, which are all qualities young people should possess.

C&E: Do you think religion is important in society? Why or why not?

AP: Society needs religious institutions which provide a guide as to how we live and impact others. I do believe religion is vital to society, as most of our morals and laws are rooted in religion. We learn important things each day; we learn that stealing, lying and killing, for example, are wrong, and these can be traced back to Bible laws. This helps to maintain order and justice in society. A society heavily influenced by religion is one that will be fair and just. Less incidents of crime and violence may result as well, as people would show more care for the less fortunate.

C&E: Do you sometimes find it difficult to maintain your school rules?

AP: I have never had a challenge being obedient. Adhering to rules, in general, is not a difficult task for me, and I have become adaptive to Holy Childhood High School’s way of life. Our rules become a part of us, for the most part, as we grow from one level to the next, and so I often forget that they are actually rules.

C&E: Your school has very strict policies on the length of your skirt. Is this based on a religious influence? What are your thoughts on it?

AP: There is no connection between religion and the length of our skirts. One of the values instilled at Holy Childhood High School is that of being lady-like. I believe the length of our skirts teaches us to be different and to be examples in society. This is exactly what our founders and leaders want us to exemplify — modesty and dignity in all aspects of our being.

C&E: Do you associate with a religion? Which?

AP: Yes I do associate with a religion; I am a Seventh-day Adventist.

C&E: What are your views on the separation of Church and State?

AP: The Church and the State cannot be one and the same. The State depends on the Church to aid in maintaining order and discipline as the church primarily helps to nurture the young. Certain core values of morality are instilled in persons by the church at a tender age, and this has a positive effect on society as people’s behaviours and attitudes become influenced positively.

C&E: What are some of the negatives to be seen from a society that is heavily influenced by religion?

AP: The differences in opinions and views as to which denomination teaches the true and correct doctrine will pose a major problem. Many religious conflicts may arise from this as well as disunity, religious segregation, and discrimination among persons.

C&E: If you could change any religion-based law in Jamaica or impose a new one, what would it be?

AP: As it is now, I have no objections to any religious laws in Jamaica. Religion is a choice, we all have an option between good and evil, ‘God’ and ‘Satan’, and so I believe worship should be of one’s own free will.

C&E: How do we, as a country, strike a balance between religious influence and not infringe on the religious freedom of others?

AP: As a country, it is important that we take into consideration the differences that exist among us. We are out of many, but one people, and so we should ensure that each individual benefits from whatever laws or guidelines we set. As I have said before, religion is a choice, and so we must ensure, as a country, that whatever laws we put in place reflect just that. In so doing, will eliminate any infringement on the freedom and rights of persons, in particular religious freedom.

C&E: What are your thoughts on wayside/bus preachers?

AP: Personally, I have not been directly affected by these individuals; however, I do believe everyone has a gift and a ministry. If it is that these wayside/bus preachers have been ordained by God to spread the good news in this capacity then by all means, I have no objections. Preaching and teaching the word of God to all people is our duty as Christians. All things written in the Bible must come to pass; therefore, people must go out to spread the good news throughout the world.

C&E: Do you think that Jamaica is getting more religious or more secular?

AP: I strongly believe Jamaica is becoming more secular, as young people, who are the future of our churches and society are gradually becoming ‘missing in action’ in our churches. One of the challenges that my church, in particular, faces is captivating and motivating young people to remain steadfast in Christ. The sinful things of the world seem to be more interesting and entertaining and so our young people gravitate toward these things and often forget the good and valuable teachings of the bible.

C&E: What is your best piece of advice to teenagers?

AP: My philosophy is ‘Life’s trails will take you nowhere if your focus is on others. Being focused, being true to yourself and to God will propel you to the summit of life’. Success comes only after much is invested. Nothing in life comes without a challenge; therefore, it is up to you to dream, set goals and work tirelessly to ensure that your dreams are realised.

C&E: Do you plan to pursue leadership at higher levels?

AP: I certainly hope to do so. I believe I was born a leader and have been exposed to leadership positions at various levels from a tender age. I definitely plan on continuing on this path in order to achieve self-actualisation.

— Aldane Walters





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