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Education ministry in support of mandatory religious exercises in schools

Published:Monday | January 19, 2015 | 1:53 PM
Ronald Thwaites - File

Jovan Johnson, Gleaner Writer



KINGSTON, Jamaica:

Jamaica's education ministry says it supports schools that make it mandatory for students to attend religious and mainly Christian activities.




About 40 per cent of Jamaica’s schools are either owned or sponsored by a Christian denomination.



Many schools that are not, generally make it mandatory for students to participate in religious exercises.



In an interview with The Gleaner in the soon-to-be-published Online current affairs programme On The Record, education minister, Ronald Thwaites, said despite growing secularism and the intensification of globalisation, Jamaican life is fundamentally based on a Christian heritage.



He says religious exposure is important to reinforce social values, build ethical structures and keep the society together.



The education minister, who is a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, says if there is what he calls a conscientious objection from parents, schools should accommodate different beliefs.



According to Thwaites, the ministry is not pushing any particular denomination but he asserts that Jamaica will not be shedding its religious history and Christian emphasis.



In a controversial article published in The Gleaner in 2013, youth development and human rights advocate, Jaevion Nelson, argued that devotions in schools are problematic, claiming that it's impossible to cater to all beliefs and the many Christian perspectives.



According to him, the Government and school administrators should not force children to pray to a Christian god, an activity that ignores one's right to religious freedom and the faiths of minority groups.



The issue of devotions in schools was also raised in public discussions after the Jamaica Urban Transit Company ruled that preaching on its buses was violating regulations.



In 2013 a report by the International Human & Ethical Union found that Jamaica was the only country in the Caribbean that upheld the freedoms of religion and expression and showed no discrimination against non-religious groups.



According to that report, most of Jamaica's religious schools are affiliated with either the Catholic Church or Protestant denominations.



There is also at least one Jewish school and at least two schools run by the Islamic Council of Jamaica.



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