Every Gambian has a right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice, or to even not believe or practice any religion.
However, such a right is not absolute. It is subject to reasonable limitations. Let your readers read Sections 25, and 25(4) 32, and 212(3) of the 1997 Constitution respectively.
The right to religion is NOT absolute. It can be derogated. For this reason, everywhere religious rights are provided for in the 1997 Constitution, they are provided subject to conditions such as not impinging on the rights and freedoms of others or the national interest, unity, morality, and all other reasonable restriction probable in a democratic society.
Consequently, the question we are to ask ourselves is whether is it reasonable accordingly to law or in a democratic society for private schools (most especially faith-based schools) to prescribe policies that limit or contradict the religious holdings of certain members of society.
It must be remembered that in accordance with the same Section 25 cited above, faith-based groups or schools also have a right to promote their faith, for example by establishing schools that promote their values.
Evidently, the right to practice one’s religion cannot impinge on the right and freedoms of others. Not to such an extent as to impose conflicting values on private persons or entities such as Christian faith-based schools.
It is my considered view that, the girls have a case only if the school involved are public schools.
If the schools involved are PUBLIC SCHOOLS, it could positively be argued that the aggrieved students have a case for the following reasons:
- Public schools are institutions for every citizen. Therefore, every citizen is presumed to have a right without any form of discrimination on any grounds to attend such schools and reasonably be allowed to manifest his or her religious beliefs.
- Secondly, the government, owing to its responsibility to create the enabling environment for the pluralistic manifestation of diverse faiths and exercise of various rights, cannot make policies that contradict the values desired by the Constitution; that everyone should be able to practice or manifest their religious belief in The Gambia to such extent as is allowed by law. This is attainable in the education system.