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The church at the center of the scandal surrounding a controversial hairdressing policy at one of its schools – which has sparked a storm of local and regional commentary – is standing firm on its stance.
Leaders also said the situation surrounding a five-year-old girl who was denied admission to New Bethel SDA Academy in Liberta has “been amicably resolved” and that the parents and school are reasonably satisfied with the result.
South Leeward Conference of Seventh Day Adventists President Dr Carson Greene issued a forceful statement yesterday, more than a week after Jordan Mason, the girl’s mother, said her daughter had been turned away during orientation after the school principal took her aside and informed her that the child could not go to school with locs.
The mother told Observer she was given an ultimatum to cut her daughter’s hair or not return.
Dr. Greene said in the statement that New Bethel SDA Academy, “like all of our schools”, views each child as someone who is loved by God and as such desires the best for them.
He said it is with the understanding that parents are aware that the institution is a Seventh-day Adventist Christian school and is governed by Christian values as set forth in its student manual.
He noted that the incident led to various statements from certain sectors including the Cabinet, the Leader of the Opposition and the Rastafarian community. And he claimed that these statements were accompanied by accusations of discrimination, and even the threat of legislation to force private institutions to conform to the wishes of public policy.
All three had condemned the school’s decision, saying no child should be prevented from receiving an education because of their hairstyle.
“I submit that the accusation of discrimination is most regrettable and ill-conceived. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has long been an advocate of religious liberty,” Dr. Greene said.
“I dare say there has been no stronger advocate and there is unquestionably no other religious denomination within the Christian faith that more deeply defends religious liberty than the Seventh-day Adventist Church. .
“We are at the forefront of the International Religious Liberty Association. In fact, the International Religious Liberty Association, a nonsectarian and apolitical organization promoting religious freedom, was established by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1893, to promote religious freedom for all.
“We have a proven track record in the fight to defend the rights of religious minorities and even established Christian organizations who face opposition because of their religious views.
“It is therefore unfortunate that there is the suggestion in these statements that our agenda is to discriminate against the Rastafarian community.”
Dr Greene said he was also concerned about the government’s suggestion that legislation could be introduced to prevent schools from banning students with dreadlocks.
He said that as a faith community, the church believes in giving honor and recognition to the government.
However, they strongly disagree that the government should seek to dictate their standards.
Dr Greene said the church strongly condemns the various statements and sees them as an attempt by secular authority to improperly control or influence the Christian community.
“The boundaries between Church and State should always remain clear and although we have the utmost respect for the government, we remain a Christian institution. We are aware that there are many who have differing opinions regarding the banning of certain hairstyles at school,” the statement read.
The church leader also stressed that hairdressing is not and never has been a matter of right or wrong, sin or salvation, but rather a matter of discipline.
“It is precisely for this reason that there is an age of consent in sexual relations. Children are not allowed to do everything adults do, and school uniforms and standards are designed to help in the process of developing discipline. It is for this reason that our manual addresses the issue of discipline in several areas and not just hairstyles.
“It should not be strange to think that a private institution has standards regarding hairstyles that are contrary to another religious group. The reality is that the Seventh-day Adventist school is not the only institution that enforces a such rule.
“Additionally, there are public institutions, such as the police department, that have strict guidelines and policies regarding conduct and hairstyles. Moreover, what we are asked to do is what we would never ask another religious organization to do for us.
Dr. Greene also argued that “As Seventh-day Adventists, we maintain that our policies are justifiable and biblically sound. We continue to believe that there is a place in our society for discipline and warn that if the nation continues on a path of changing or lowering its standards to accommodate the popular, we will soon have serious effects on our society.
He suggested the conversation should shift to tolerance rather than accusations and “indifference towards those who have opinions different from ours”.
The child in question was transferred to another school and the mother was fully reimbursed for the fees she had paid.
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