A Zulu bracelet, an object of contention between a Christian school and its pupil

A student, attending a private school, was expelled for wearing a traditional Zulu bracelet. The case, beyond its anecdotal aspect, is brought to justice. It raises the issue of freedom of conscience and that of the autonomy of Christian religious schools in South Africa.

It all starts with a simple bracelet, the one worn by a Zulu student attending a private Christian school, South African daily reports Mail & Guardian. This is not an ordinary jewel, but a turban, a traditional goatskin ceremonial bracelet that is believed to connect the teenager to his ancestors. Traditionally, the bracelet should be worn until it comes off the wrist on its own. It is therefore impossible for the wearer to remove it.

However, the Christian school sent the student home with learning materials so that he could continue his education. He will not be able to return to school until the bracelet has come off, as the Zulu belief demands. The establishment has in fact estimated that “Wearing a coat is a religious practice that conflicts with its ethics and biblical beliefs ”, continues the Mail & Guardian.

The parents of the expelled pupil, for their part, describe neither more nor less than an act of discrimination. “For cultural reasons”. They therefore brought the case to court and claim 300,000 rand in damages, or more than 17,000 euros. The case will be decided on January 19 by the Johannesburg High Court, which will sit on this occasion as an equality tribunal.

“A dangerous precedent”

But the dispute risks taking on another dimension, raising the question of the autonomy of all private religious schools in the country and their right to establish admission policies specific to their religion. A point on which the High Court of Johannesburg must also rule.

If the court does not approve the school’s decision, “This would set a dangerous precedent for all private religious schools in the country, which could then be forced to act against their religious convictions and beliefs”, asserts in a statement, the executive director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR TO), an organization that claims to uphold the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the South African Constitution.

This would completely undermine the very reason for the existence of these schools and go directly against the constitutional right to establish and maintain private religious schools. ”

While wearing a coat is allowed in public schools, private religious schools believe that“They are specifically established to provide education in the context of certain religious beliefs, practices and ethics. Parents, learners and staff join these schools precisely for this reason ”, adds the press release FOR TO.

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