Seventh Day Adventist Church defends controversial school hairstyle policy

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Dr Carson Greene
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The church at the centre of the scandal surrounding a controversial hairstyle policy in one of its schools –  which has sparked a firestorm of comments locally and regionally – is standing firm by its stance.

Leaders have also indicated that the situation surrounding a five-year-old girl who was barred from admission at the New Bethel SDA Academy in Liberta has “been amicably resolved” and both parents and school are reasonably satisfied with the outcome.

President of the South Leeward Conference of Seventh Day Adventists Dr Carson Greene issued a strongly worded statement yesterday, more than a week after Jordan Mason, the young girl’s mother, said her daughter had been turned away during orientation after the school principal pulled her aside and informed her that the child could not attend school with locs.

The mother told Observer that she was given an ultimatum to chop off her daughter’s hair or not to return.

Dr Greene said in the release that the New Bethel SDA Academy, “like all our schools”, sees every child as one who is loved by God and, as such, desires the best for them.

He said this 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 articulated in its student handbook.

He noted that the incident has led to various pronouncements from some sectors, including the Cabinet, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Rastafarian community. And he claimed that those pronouncements were laced with charges of discrimination, and even the threat of legislation to force private institutions to comply with the wishes of public policy.

All three had condemned the school’s decision, saying no child should be barred from getting an education because of their hairstyle.

“I posit that the charge of discrimination is most unfortunate and ill conceived. The Seventh Day Adventist Church has long been an advocate of religious liberty,” Dr Greene said.

“I daresay that there has not been a stronger advocate and there is unarguably no other religious denomination within the Christian faith that advocates more profoundly for religious freedom 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 non-sectarian and non-political organisation promoting religious freedom, was formed by the Seventh Day Adventist Church back in 1893, to promote religious freedom for all.

“We have a proven track record of fighting to defend the rights of religious minorities and even established Christian organisations that face opposition for their religious views.

“It is therefore regrettable that there is the suggestion in these pronouncements that our agenda is to discriminate against the Rastafarian community.”

Dr Greene said he is also concerned by the suggestion from the government that legislation could be introduced to prevent schools from banning students with dreadlocks.

He said, as a faith-based community, the church believes in giving honour and recognition to the government.

However, they strongly disagree that government should seek to dictate their standards.

Dr Greene said the church strongly condemns the various statements and views them as an attempt by secular authority to control or unduly influence the Christian community.

“The lines between church and state should forever remain clear and while we have utmost respect for government, we remain a Christian institution. We are aware that there are many who have varying opinions regarding disallowing certain hairstyles in school,” the release said.

The church official also stressed that hairstyle is not and never has been a matter of right or wrong, sin or salvation, but is rather a matter of discipline.

“It is for this very reason why there is an age of consent with respect to sexual relations. Children do not have the right to do everything that adults do, and uniforms and standards in school are designed to assist with the process of development of discipline. It is for this reason why our handbook addresses matter of discipline in several areas and not just hairstyles.

“It should not be strange to think that a private institution has standards involving hairstyles that are contrary to another religious group. The reality is, the Seventh Day Adventist school is not the only institution that enforces such a rule.

“Further, there are public institutions, such as the police department, that have strict guidelines and policies regarding deportment and hairstyles. Moreover, what is being requested of us to do is what we would never request of another religious organisation to do for us.”

Dr Greene also maintained 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 the path of changing or lowering its standards to accommodate the popular, we will soon have grave effects on our society.”

He suggested that the conversation should switch to tolerance rather than accusations and “indifference towards those who hold views that are different to ours”.

The child in question has been transferred to another school and the mother fully refunded for the fees she had paid out.

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