CHRISTIAN organisations have castigated the Primary and Secondary Schools Ministry for imposing a national schools pledge without a prior consultation process, expressing fears that there could be an agenda to kick out the Lord’s Prayer recited by students during assemblies.
The Lord’s Prayer is deduced from Matthew 6 and Luke 11 when Jesus Christ’s disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.
The prayer has been a common feature at many public and missionary schools over the decades.
Christians feel this could be stopped by introduction of the Pledge of Allegiance, which is proposed in the curriculum review embarked on in 2014 by Primary and Secondary Schools Minister, Dr Lazarus Dokora.
Instead of the Lord’s Prayer, infant pupils will say: “Almighty God in whose hands our future lies, I salute the national flag, I commit to honesty and dignity of hard work.”
Junior and secondary school students’ Pledge of Allegiance reads, “Almighty God in whose hands our future lies, I salute the national flag, I commit to honesty and dignity of hard work. United in our diversity by our common desire for freedom, justice and equality.
Respecting the brave fathers and mothers who lost lives in the Chimurenga/Umvekela and national liberation struggles.
“We are proud inheritors of the richness of our natural resources. We are proud creators and participants of the richness of our natural resources.
We are proud creators and participants in our vibrant traditions and cultures. ”
With pupils already singing the national anthem and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in 10-30 minute school assemblies, churches fear the Pledge of Allegiance will clutter the programme and eventually see the prayer being kicked out.
Founder and leader of Word of Life International Ministries, Dr Goodwill Shana, said their general sentiment was that if this was pursued, Zimbabwe would follow in the footsteps of the United States which stopped prayer in public schools in the name of separating faith and the state.
“The national pledge (in the US) did away with prayer in schools. The general concern is the process will have Christian values done away with. The process itself was not open, it will be wonderful to have consultation.
“I think EFZ (Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe) is concerned with inroads the multi-faith agenda is making in trying to be as inclusive we slowly find ourselves doing away with Christian values. While we think, a pledge doesn’t appear outwardly negative but in the process where is it going,” the former president of EFZ said.
“From the Constitution, I have a right of association and (that applies) for children as well. The pledge isn’t on the curriculum and it’s an imposition and it might play the role of violating my Constitutional right. When you read newspaper articles (on the pledge) you see that the language used is arrogant, that it’s not optional, what kind of language is that?
“… Our country doesn’t need division, imposing is not the way. I have made (known) my concerns to EFZ – that the church should register concerns strongly.
“We shouldn’t just be against it but let’s have dialogue with the series of stakeholders involved. Politicians say we (church) are important but exclude us in these important decision processes,” Dr Shana said.
According to online sources, the US pledge of allegiance is recited in schools at the beginning of every day.
However after introduction of the pledge in the 1880s, several legal battles followed.
“… prominent legal challenges were brought in the 1930s and 1940s by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power other than God, and who objected to policies in public schools requiring students to swear an oath to the flag.
They objected on the grounds that their rights to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment were being violated by such requirements.”
In 1962, the US supreme court also ruled that government-endorsed prayer in public schools was unconstitutional. This followed a contention which was started by parents who in 1958 sued New York over state-endorsed prayer being recited in schools.
The supreme court sided with the complainants and the decision was issued on June 25, 1962.
“The landmark decision, which continues to lay at the center of the nation’s debate over the separation of church and state, forever changed the way that faith and religion are handled in classrooms.
“What followed … was the eradication of prayer and religion from schools, something many on the conservative end — particularly those with a faith bent — lament,” an article from theblaze.com says.
Zimbabwe has a secular Constitution and seeks to keep the State and Church separate while at the same time “Acknowledging the supremacy of Almighty God, in whose hands our future lies”. (Preamble to the Constitution of Zimbabwe)
EFZ secretary-general Mr Blessing Makwara said several of their members were concerned with the pledge.
“There have been mixed reactions. Some conservatives are strongly against the pledge. It’s like an oath that can be held against oneself. Children in primary up to 16 years, are they able to appreciate what pledging is without parental consent?
“Scriptures clearly state that don’t swear, if its yes let it be yes, and a no be a no… . When you talk of saluting flags vis-a-vis worshipping God alone! To Minister (Dokora), he was saying it’s a commitment to inculcate national identity and hard work.
If you read the words of the pledge for primary and secondary schools they are taken from Constitution of Zimbabwe. It’s just a replacement with simple words to suit the children. It’s an issue bringing forth that do you understand what is in the Constitution,” Mr Makwara said.
Former EFZ secretary-general Reverend Tim Tavaziva added: “The trend in the world is to go the New Age style where you bring all the religions and like a big sanguage you eat. That’s not going to work with Christians. There is going to be major sidelining. In fact I personally think it’s a subtle attempt to remove prayer from the schools. It means we stop praying, stop catching them young and teaching our children to communicate with God.
“In the Constitution we have freedom of religion. That’s what you volunteer. I would like to submit that most people in this country are Christians and they volunteered the Christian way of doing things.
In courts the Bible is used, when ministers are sworn for office, the same.
“If they wanted they could argue that a few children are being forced to do the Lord’s Prayer. But they aren’t forced they can choose shut up during the prayer. But with the pledge I don’t know if they say aaah it’s voluntary.
“I am glad that Parliament said ‘minister, hold it’. Let there be a debate and consensus because his (Dr Dokora’s) approach has been we are consulting. But it’s really been from top down rather than engaging genuinely.”
He added that while there were many Christian denominations, there was consensus on teaching the Lord’s Prayer.
An article titled “Banning Prayer in Public Schools has led to America’s Demise” outlines how that country has plummeted from righteous living, prosperity and success in the last quarter century.
Deriving its analysis on research titled “America: To Pray or Not to Pray”, the article states that America’s moral decline rapidly accelerated following the US supreme court’s ruling to remove prayer from public schools.
“America has experienced radical decline in each of the four areas which the children’s prayer touched upon: youth, family, education, national life. Minor recovery has occurred only since 1980 when the election of president Reagan brought forth a renewed emphasis on ‘traditional’ values.”
The writer quotes Matthew 5:33-37 to illustrate how a pledge infringes on God’s Word.
“Besides forbidding perjury (calling God to witness a lie) and false swearing, this passage also forbids all rash and unnecessary swearing, and especially warns against promissory oaths – that require a performance. Our ‘Yes’ should be ‘Yes,’ and our ‘No’ should mean ‘No.’ If understood, our word uttered in integrity should of itself be a sufficient and proper bond.
“The ‘evangelical prophet,’ Oswald Chambers (1874–1917), saw that the empty promises made by so many Christians actually result in great “spiritual leakage.”
He admonished his followers: “Always beware of vowing, it is a risky thing. If you promise to do a thing and don’t do it, it means the weakening of your moral nature. We are all so glib in the way we promise and don’t perform and never realise that it is sapping our moral energy.”