The much-debated legal case involving Vatuvonu Seventh-day Adventist College is set to go before the highest court in Fiji.
At a meeting of the Fiji Mission Executive Committee (EXCOM) on June 14, 2021, four options were considered in response to the recent Court of Appeal ruling that overturned a High Court ruling pertaining to the appointment of state-funded teachers in faith-based schools.
“After assessing and weighing the presentations, considering the advice of our lawyers and the legal team, and with long deliberations and continuous prayers, the EXCOM decided to appeal the Court of Appeal ruling to the Supreme Court,” Fiji Mission secretary Ronald Stone and associate secretary Epeli Saukuru wrote in a statement released on June 15.
“For now, Vatuvonu will remain as an aided school until the process of appealing to the Supreme Court is completed.
“In the meantime, we ask that we take this matter to heart and pray over it. We are reminded to ask and it shall be given, knock and the door shall be opened, seek and you shall find.”
The Vatuvonu case began in 2019 following Fiji Mission’s decision to privatize the school, which led to the government commencing legal proceedings in the High Court. On November 22 of that year, High Court judge Justice A. L. B. Brito-Mutunayagam ruled in the civil proceedings initiated by the Fiji government’s Ministry of Education against Vatuvonu Seventh-day Adventist College and five trustees of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fiji. In the judge’s ruling, the application by the Ministry of Education to take over management and control of the school was declined, thereby handing the school back to the Adventist Church. Second, the judge ordered that the appointment of a principal by the Ministry of Education must be someone “acceptable to the church.”
This year’s meeting of the Fiji Mission EXCOM was convened after the June 3 decision by the Fiji Court of Appeal to overturn the previous High Court ruling that the appointment of state-funded teachers in any school established by a faith-based organization must be approved by the faith-based organization. That ruling effectively means that all teachers paid by the government are seen as civil servants and thus cannot be seen to promote a specific religious worldview. The curriculum must also be taught with a secular perspective. The only way Adventist schools can teach Bible is for the church to pay those teachers separately from the government.