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Children in mission or private schools are compelled to attend chapel services or religious policies at their respective institutions and if they are not comfortable they are free to transfer to other schools of choice, the Constitutional Court has ruled.

Dismissing a constitutional challenge by parents of some four girls at the Anglican Church-oriented Arundel School in Harare, Justice Bharat Patel said the school was free to enforce its policies.

In the event that the school decides to expel the defiant pupils, adequate notice must be given to allow them to look for alternative schools and to relocate.

"The school is entitled to enforce its policy of compulsory chapel attendance in respect of the applicants' daughters . . . In the event that the first and second respondents take the decision to expel the applicants' daughters from the school, they shall be afforded a reasonable period of time to select and relocate to another school," Justice Patel ruled.

The court found that no constitutional rights were violated in the compulsory attendance to church services at the school.

It was also considered that the parents and their children voluntarily joined the school and chose to abide by its policies.

Four parents -- Amos Makani, Mbiri Shiripinda, Plaxedes Chipangura and Daniel Sakupwanya who are members of the Jehovah's Witnesses church, contested the school's policy compelling all pupils to attend Anglican-oriented services.

They argued that compelling their children to attend chapel services violated their religious beliefs.

South African-based Advocate Tererai Mafukidze instructed by Messrs Joshua Shekede and Givemore Madzoka from Wintertons Legal Practitioners argued the matter for the four parents, while Adv Adrian de Bourbon represented Arundel and the school head.

Adv Mafukidze argued that it was unconstitutional for the school to discriminate against the four pupils on grounds of their religious beliefs and this was a violation of the children's rights.

He said it was unlawful for the four pupils to be forced to worship in a chapel full of religious symbols, unlike in the kingdom (Jehovah's Witnesses) halls.

He submitted that the school authorities were obliged to respect the quartet's religion in line with the Constitution. The four pupils, he argued, should be excused from attending the chapel meetings.

Adv Mafukidze accused the current school head of changing the previous exemptions granted to those with particular beliefs from attending chapel services on religious grounds.

But Adv de Bourbon urged the court to dismiss the constitutional application. The four parents, he argued, waived one of their many religious rights when they allowed their children to be enrolled at the Anglican school.

He accused them of fraudulently seeking to change the school's principles to suit their needs.

Adv de Bourbon said there was no suggestion from the four parents that an attempt was made to persuade their daughters to change their religion or beliefs.

Source: The Herald