Fungai Lupande Court Reporter
Lawyers for Human Rights yesterday filed an application at the Constitutional Court against the national pledge on behalf of a father of three school-going children who doesn’t want his children to recite the pledge.
In the application, the man (name withheld for professional reasons), argues that the pledge is unconstitutional and against his religious beliefs.
He submitted that the national pledge is a prayer which exalts various secular phenomena including the national flag, mothers and fathers who lost their lives in the liberation struggle.
This, he said, is not his understanding of prayer shared by his faith, which reserved worship to God alone.
The respondents are the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, the headmaster of Mashambanhaka Secondary School, the headmaster Chizungu Primary School and the Attorney-General of Zimbabwe.
“I am the father and guardian of three minor children (one 15 years old), a Form Three student at Mashambanhaka Secondary School,” read the ap- plication.
“(One 11 years old) a Grade Six pupil at Chizungu Primary School and (another one seven years old) enrolled for his Early Childhood Development (ECD) at Chizungu Primary School.
“I am a devout Christian and a member of the Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe (AFM) denomination. My whole family shares this faith and attends services together every Sunday without fail.
“On 23 March 2016, the closing day for schools, my daughter informed me that her teacher, a Mr Chifamba, had given them a pledge, which was to be memorised and recited at the beginning of the next school term on 3 May 2016.”
He added that he received the national school pledge for all his schoolchildren.
“Needless to say, I was not pleased by this development. My primary objection to the pledge is on the grounds of religion,” he said.
“Based on the tenets of my faith, I am not permitted to worship or pray to anything or anyone other than God. It is my conviction that the divinely inspired and written word of God is the complete rule for faith and practice,” read the application.
“As currently formulated, the national pledge confuses honour, with worship, thereby causing offence to my convictions.
“Even if one argues that the pledge is not a prayer, it is still a religious observance covered by the provisions relating to freedom of conscience in the Constitution.
“The national pledge takes a position regarding the question of existence and identity of a deity. It is religious beyond reasonable doubt.”
He added that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has, through the pledge, endorsed monotheistic faiths and those that permit and allow for the secular salutations in the presence of Almighty God in prayer.
“This is needlessly exclusionary to those who do not share that construction of faith,” he said.
“In other words, the national pledge requires that schoolchildren declare a belief whilst communicating by word the acceptance of political ideas.
“The mere recitation of the national pledge will thus amount to a repudiation of our religious values and, in essence, will amount to a public announcement that we do not belong.
“Concordantly, those of us who do not share the faith as formulated in the pledge will be cast as unpatriotic even though we respect our culture and national heritage but only do not wish to do so in a religious context.”
“Religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy for it to be distorted by State-formulated prayer and State endorsement,” said the man.
“Given the age and manipulability of schoolchildren, particularly within the confined environment of a classroom, this policy is likely to convey a message of endorsement of monotheistic faith of the nature contemplated by the pledge and a rejection of all others,” he said.