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Public prayer at NW University - a right or infringement of a right?

03 May 2013, 12:56

I know we live in a democracy (in theory anyway) and one of the perks of this is that individuals have rights – sometimes even those who should not have any, but that is a another story.

One of the rights we have in this rainbow nation of ours is that of religious freedom. That, I assume, means that we have the right to belong to any religious denomination without fear of retribution or discrimination. Or, stated differently, having someone trying to force their religious beliefs down anybody’s throat.

What is disturbing is that some people in a position of authority do not seem to honour this right.

Although I am sure it happens in a lot of places, I can only refer to what I know about. It seems that some lecturers at the NW University insist on opening their lectures with prayer. While this seems to be a noble, inoffensive gesture, this is not the case as there are / could be  students from different nationalities, races and religious beliefs in the same class including Indians, Jews, Blacks and Coloureds to mention a few. While it may have been safe in the days of the Voortrekkers to assume that everyone was a Christian, in the global world we live in, even that is not a safe bet anymore, especially if we think of all the different Christian denominations that fly under this banner, e.g. Catholic, Dutch Reformed, etc.

So we are faced with a situation where sometimes fierce, devout followers of the prophet Mohammed, Allah, various Hindi Gods, Satan, Jesus, etc. sit side by side with agnostics and atheists.

Surely this could be experienced as being offensive to some of the aforementioned groups but, as the lecturer is in a position of power, only the brave and the foolish would stand up and protest – either in public or in private - as this could reflect in their marks.

So how do we deal with two opposing sides of the same right – that of the lecturer who insists on praying to his or her deity of choice or that of the student who has to listen to a one-sided rendition to the lecturer’s object of prayer?

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