Coup leader Frank Bainimarama has yet to announce his party policies let alone his political party but one issue already causing controversy is the possible introduction of a so-called 'neutral prayer' in state schools.
The 'neutral prayer' was suggested by Bainimarama after a Ministry of Education senior official, Mesui C Folau, wrote to Suva Grammar saying that under the 2013 Constitution teachers, as public servants, are not permitted
to conduct prayers in schools.
The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Ro Teimumu Kepa, has since taken up the cudgel saying the illegal government needs to come clean on its 'web of confusion over its policy of a secular state.'
The Rewa chief says Bainimarama and the illegal attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, are refusing to answer the question: "Will Christian prayers and observances referring to Jesus Christ be allowed in government schools?"
In a statement, Kepa also asks: "Will the specific prayers of other religions be permitted" and "Are schools owned and operated by religious denominations safe from secularism?"
Kepa says there is a fear the 'government will try to extend
its religious authority
to all schools on the basis of the extra funding it has provided for free education.'
"My understanding as of now is that Commodore Bainimarama and Mr Sayed-Khaiyum are promoting 'neutral prayer.' This would remove Christ from the school prayer.
"Commodore Bainimarama recited his 'netural prayer' at Kalabu High School but it is not for Voreqe Bainimarama to tell us what prayers our children should say at school."
Kepa says Bainimarama needs to explain in particular how his policy of secularism affects the Fiji Military Forces.
'Are the members of these two state institutions also expected to say only 'neutral prayers?
"There was no sign of that at the church service at the military headquarters to farewell Commodore Bainimarama as Commander."
The following is an abstract of the email sent to officers at the Ministry of Education regarding the responsibility of teachers as public servants and the school prayer that was also sent to C4.5
With reference to the report submitted by the school principal and the
request made by your office regarding the clarification on the above
subject the following advice is provided herein:
1. Whether the action by the school to carryout school devotion and
prayers is in breach of section 4(3) (b) & ( c ) of the
Constitution of the Republic of Fiji 2013.
2. Law: Constitution of the Republic of Fiji 2013 section 4 (3)
states " religion and the state a separate, which means : (b) " the
state and all person holding public office must not dictate any
religious belief ", and ( c) " the state and all person holding public
office must not prefer or advance, by any means any particular
religion , religious denomination, religious belief or religious
practice over others , or over any non-religious belief ... "
Analysis - Suva Grammar School is a government school and its
employees are officers of the state or public office holders. . Public
office holders must not advance by any means any particular religion
over others meaning that the School cannot promote or seen to be
promoting, advocating, a particular religious denomination or belief .
Therefore, it would be unconstitutional if any public office holders
continue to conduct school devotions and prayers at Suva Grammar
School in the Christianity faith as this would be construed that
Christianity subjugated other religions. The way forward now is to
stop all public officers [teachers, administrative cadre] at Suva
Grammar from conducting any form of religious teachings or education
at the School.. This constitution provision has trounced the
Education Act provision and will have some bearing on Part 5
"Religious Instructions" section 11 of the Education Act Cap 262.
4. All schools in Fiji must adhere to this constitution provisions
regardless whether they are religious based schools or otherwise.