The High Court decision on Friday indicated that Rastafarianism is a religion just like any other and ought to be respected.
While giving his final verdict in a suit in which a father of a girl who was sent away from Olympic High School in Nairobi soon after being admitted in Form One, Justice Enoch Chacha Mwita said that the school administration’s action denied the girl her right to religion and education.
The judge also pointed out that the Constitution does not define what religion is but the dictionary does.
“This is the first ever case in this country where a child dons rasta braids because of her religious beliefs, Rastafarianism is a religion which should also be accorded protection,” said Justice Mwita.
And while defending the girl’s parents for taking her to school well aware that the learning institution may be opposed to Rastafarianism, the judge said that every parent has to ensure that their child joins school for purposes of spiritual mental and social development.
He pointed out that the Constitution clearly spells out that failing to take a child to school is an offence that attracts a fine of Ksh100,000 ($1,000) or a one-year jail term.
The judge ruled that the school acted in a discriminatory manner to send away the said girl.
“School rules stand on her way to religion and education, the rules have been applied in a manner to deny her education, keeping rastas is a manifestation of her religion and forcing her to cut it is contrary to her beliefs,” said Justice Mwita.
In the suit, the father of five protested against the school’s decision to send home his daughter with instructions to cut off her dreadlocks at the start of this year.
According to her parents, they had indicated in her admission documents that she belongs to the Rastafarian Society of Kenya (RSK).
Her father’s attempt to seek assistance from the education office in Kibera estate did not bear any fruit as his complaint was summarily dismissed.
He then moved to court to challenge his daughter’s suspension from school. But the school argued that RSK has nothing to do with the right to education of students.
It also claimed that the girl wore a hijab on the day of her admission and verbally indicated that she was a Muslim hence was admitted to a class that teaches Islamic religion.
The school also told the court that her hijab fell off and exposed her dreadlocks. It is then that she was told that she would only be allowed in class after she shaves her hair.
However, the judge declared that the decision to exclude the student from school because of keeping dreadlocks was a violation of her rights to education and religion.
He also issued an order barring Olympic High School from interfering with the minor over her dreadlocks.
“School rules are not intended to punish students, the fact that she keeps dreadlocks should not have been the basis to chase her from school. There must be a balance between fundamental rights and school rules,” ruled Justice Mwita.
He added: “School rules should not appear to be superior to the Constitution, the rule that she cuts her hair is intrusive to her religion and not justifiable in a democratic country.”