The Seventh Day Adventist Church alleged violation of the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under Article 32 of the Constitution of Kenya for students professing the Seventh Day Adventist faith in public schools across the country.
It filed this Petition in its own right under Article 22 of the Constitution and on behalf of all its members and students under Article 22(2)(a) and (b). They claimed their rights rights under Article 27 and 32 of the Constitution and Section 26 of the Education Act had been violated.
The ruling in Seventh Day Adventist Church vs Minister for Education and the Attorney General (2017) is seen as a major victory for the church against the Ministry for Education as the judgement was in favor of the petitioner.
A three-judge bench stated that forcing students who observe their Sabbath on Saturday to attend classes was an infringement on their right to worship.
Judges Kathurima Mn’oti, William Ouko and Asike Makhandia ruled that students affiliated with the religion should be exempt from class attendance, examinations and cleaning on Saturdays.
Denying them this right is not only a violation of conscience, religion, belief and opinion but also against the right of equality and freedom from discrimination.
The petitioners also claimed students faced harassment and bullying from fellow students and school heads to work and attend classes on their Sabbath, which is against the tenets of their religious belief.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination with a worldwide congregation of about 65, 000 churches and 17 million registered members of whom 700,000 reside in Kenya.
The fundamental beliefs of Adventists are predicated upon the Bible which constitutes their hold on certain beliefs.
One of the 28 fundamental beliefs accepted by all Adventists is the obligation to respect the Sabbath which ought to be observed by all Adventists on the Seventh day of the week. From sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
During this time they are not allowed to work.
They are strict followers of the fourth commandment of the Bible that states “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
“On the Sabbath, you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (Exodus 20:10)
The case of Seventh Day Adventist Church vs Minister for Education and the Attorney General (2017) began in 2013 where the church lost its case in the High Court, against the Ministry of Education.
Isaac Lenaola, judge of the High Court dismissed it, noting that allowing church’s prayers would result into chaos in schools. The judge’s view was that if schools allowed every religion to practice it rights by setting a day for each, learning would be paralyzed.
This appeal set aside the previous orders by the High Court and in place ordered that the rights of the students were infringed. The current Attorney General, Githu Muigai agreed with the 2013 ruling stating it prioritized one religion over others.
All religions are equal and giving special treatment to one in particular does not uphold Article 27 but rather violates it.
In addition, Kenya is a secular state, hence, imperative to separate the religion and the state.
- Freedom of conscience
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of belief
- Freedom from discrimination
Sources of Law used
- Article 32
- Article 27
- Article 22 (2) (a) and (b)
- Article 159 (2) (e)
Acts of Parliament
- Section 26 of the Education Act
Religious instruction in public schools
(1) If the parent of a pupil at a public school requests that the pupil be wholly or partly excused from attending religious worship, or religious worship and religious instruction, in the school, the pupil shall be excused such attendance until the request is withdrawn.
(2) Where the parent of a pupil at a public school wishes the pupil to attend religious worship or religious instruction of a kind which is not provided in the school, the school shall provide such facilities as may be practicable for the pupil to receive religious instruction and attend religious worship of the kind desired by the parent.