Parents and local community leaders in Serian, Sarawak have criticised a principal of a local secondary school for barring students from wearing the cross, rosaries, crucifixes or other Christian symbols, even if they are worn under their uniforms.
A senior female student from SMK Serian was ordered to remove the cross she wore under her uniform while another student was ordered to remove a rosary that she wore that was also under her uniform.
“Besides that, the principal was said to have made an insensitive statement to the student by saying that instead of wearing the cross, it would be good for the student to go and carry one from the graveyard,” DAP Serian branch chairman Edward Luwak said today.
Edward said he received reports from parents who were dismayed by the action of the principal and had brought up the matter with local church leaders and the Serian District Education Officer.
Earlier this morning, Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) Baru President Cobbold John lodged a police report in Serian, citing a violation of the students’ religious rights.
The principal was said to have explained to the District Education Officer that the cross worn was an “extra large cross”. The principal was said to have apologised later.
“To claim that the student, and a girl at that, was wearing an extra large cross is most likely a cooked-up story to justify his action. It would not be normal for someone to wear an extra large cross unless she or he is a church leader putting on a cross in the performance of his religious duties.
“Furthermore the cross is said to have been tucked in,” Edward said when contacted today.
The principal was allegedly transferred out of a teaching position in Mukah, after converting a student against the parents’ wishes.
Edward said the actions of the principal, who is said to be from Peninsular Malaysia, “clearly demonstrated his ignorance of the local situation.”
“He seemed to be unaware that locals were very tolerant of each other’s practices. He also needs to realise that Serian has a majority Christian community,” Edward said, adding that there were also prior reports of cases where bibles were confiscated in the school after searches were made on students’ bags.
“That was an infringement of the principle of religious freedom as enshrined in our constitution. The authorities should reprimand the principal for his actions. Peace, goodwill, harmony, tolerance and understanding must prevail in a peace-loving Sarawak,” he said.
Autonomy advocacy group Sarawak For Sarawakians (S4S) also condemned the actions of the principal.
“S4s wants this case to be investigated and proper action to be taken,” said S4S spokesperson Peter John Jaban.
“Sarawak is a not a Muslim state. Foreigners who work in the state should learn our culture before they come here. We respect them and they should respect us,” he said.