Updated: Feb 1 hearing for National Pledge

Source: Updated: Feb 1 hearing for National Pledge | The Herald January 25, 2017

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
THE challenge against a Government policy requiring all schoolchildren to recite the National Pledge will be heard on February 1 by a full bench of the Constitutional Court.

A Harare man (name withheld), who has three children in primary school, is contesting the constitutionality of the policy, saying it was against his Christian beliefs.

Parties in the matters have all filed their heads of argument and other relevant papers to enable the court to hear the challenge.

Mr David Hofisi of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, on behalf of the parent, filed papers contesting the constitutionality of the requirement.

The National Pledge, according to the father of three school-going children who is behind the challenge, is unconstitutional and against his religious beliefs.

He does not want his children to recite the pledge.

The man, who is a member of the Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe (AFM), argued 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.

He contends that the National Pledge is offensive to his religious convictions and thus befouls various sections of the supreme law of the country.

The man’s children are attending Mashambanhaka Secondary School in Murehwa and Chizungu Primary School in Epworth and headmasters for the two schools were listed as respondents together with Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora and the Attorney-General of Zimbabwe, Advocate Prince Machaya.

He argued that his right to equality before the law and non-discrimination will be violated by the imposition of the National Pledge as a requirement for all children in schools. The man argued that the Constitution recognises the existence all religious beliefs and values and that the new requirement in schools was an endorsement of monotheistic religious beliefs which accommodate secular salutations.

He argued that the National Pledge was neither a provision of that Constitution nor an Act of Parliament hence it cannot limit any of the rights and freedoms in the Declaration of Rights.

The man also contends that the compulsory imposition of the National Pledge as a requirement in schools was in violation of the right to dignity as protected under Section 51 of the Con- stitution.

Minister Dokora defended the recitation of the National Pledge in schools saying it was not a prayer, but a commitment that is necessary for nation-building.

Responding to the challenge, Minister Dokora said there was nothing unconstitutional about the pledge.

The minister argued that the pledge does not, in any way, violate the constitutional rights of parents and their children.

“Applicant’s objection on the grounds of religion is misplaced. The national school pledge is not a prayer in any form.

“There is nothing inappropriate in the wording. It is clearly not a prayer but simply a pledge or commitment which begins by exalting Almighty God. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging God at the beginning of the school pledge,” reads Minister Dokora’s opposing af- fidavit.

The minister urged the Constitutional Court to throw out the challenge saying the idea of a pledge and its wording came from the supreme law of the country.

He said the pledge was a way of boosting patriotism.

“The school pledge is meant to foster patriotism, unity, values and discipline among the learners. The words, as indicated, are drawn from the Constitution.

“It does not replace any existing prayers used to open school assembly sessions. It is a teaching exercise and not a religious observance,” he said.

Minister Dokora said the pledge did not violate any constitutional rights and that it was not a religious instruction.

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