The Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a strongly worded statement in which it described the President’s threat of sanctions against religious discrimination in schools as unwarranted.
‘We wish to assure Heads of our Catholic Educational Institutions to remain resolute and not feel unduly intimidated by threat of sanctions. We expect our Heads to continue to manage our schools in ways and practices that are in conformity with our Catholic identity and mission,’ the statement issued in Accra yesterday said.
During his 2015 State of the Nation Address last Thursday, President John Mahama waded into the controversy over religious discrimination as expressed by some Muslim groups that their religious rights were being violated.
Some WAEC officials in the Western Region were said to have asked candidates taking passport-sized photos during registration for the exams to remove their headscarves or hijabs because they concealed features including the forehead, nose and chin.
Some Muslim groups in Takoradi in the Western Region subsequently protested against what they described as discrimination against them in Christian schools.
The President told the nation that ‘it is wrong under our Constitution for Muslim students to be compelled to attend church services or for Christian students to be compelled to attend Muslim congregational prayers… Heads of institutions must note this for strict compliance. Appropriate sanctions will be taken against any head of institution who acts contrary to the constitutional provisions of our country’.
In a reaction to the President’s comments, the Catholic leaders said they believe this statement constitutes a threat.
‘Needless, we are stating that no citizen in Ghana should allow him/herself to be cowed by any intimidation or threat of sanction from any individuals,’ they said in the statement.
The Bishops argued that students have a choice between Christian-based schools and Islamic ones. They stated that if students want to attend schools that do not fit their faith, they should be ready to abide by their regulations.
“Certain Catholic traditions must be observed the same way if you go to an Islamic school traditions will be observed,” they maintained.
Most Rev Joseph Osei-Bonsu
They noted that the Ghana Education Service (GES) after the President’s statement has also issued a directive that all students, irrespective of their religious beliefs, must attend morning devotions in missionary schools.
‘We are trying to encourage our students, notwithstanding their faith, to come together to worship and it brings about national unity. If a Muslim takes part in morning worship it doesn’t mean the person is being forced to convert to Christianity,’ the Public Relations Officer of GES, Charles Parker Allotey, explained.
In view of the “contradiction” between the GES’ statement and President Mahama’s “threat” to sanction school heads who force down religious practices on students, the Bishops called for dialogue to resolve the matter.
“One party cannot just come and issue directives without consulting the other. Government is only one stakeholder,” the President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Most Rev Joseph Osei-Bonsu, said.
Bishop Osei-Bonsu said students who cannot comply with the religious rules and practices in Catholic schools should quit and move to other schools, if they so desire.
According to him, many of the students who attend Catholic schools choose the schools because of the age-long discipline and religious ethics that have existed in those schools.
Bishop Osei-Bonsu told Citi FM in a follow up interview that students of other religious persuasions who cannot stand the rules and regulations in Catholic schools can opt out.
‘When people decide to go to particular schools, they do so because of the culture and beliefs of that school.
‘And therefore, they agree to abide by those regulations; but if they don’t like the regulations, they can go somewhere else,’ he stated.
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