BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab called on Lebanese educational institutions Thursday to respect freedom of expression and religious practice, a month after SABIS School announced new regulations banning crosses while allowing hijab.
“We call on... public and private schools...to adhere to the content of Articles 9 and 10 of the Lebanese Constitution,” Bou Saab’s statement said, “by not issuing any regulations, decisions or teachings that could violate the [students’] freedom of religion.”
Bou Saab said that unless the students’ practices “violate the general order,” they shall not be suppressed.
The statement came one month after the International School of Shoueifat, known as SABIS School, added a new regulation to its bylaws banning religious symbols.
The SABIS controversy reportedly began when students with cross signs drawn on their foreheads for Ash Monday were allegedly denied entry to classrooms at the school’s Koura campus.
The parents were later notified through SMS about the school’s new regulations.
“The display of any religious or political symbol is strictly forbidden,” Lebanese TV channel MTV quoted the new bylaws as stating.
“A religious obligation may be accepted by the administration if it is not in conflict with the curriculum, rules and regulations of the school.”
The hijab was permitted as an aspect of religious obligation for many female students, while deliberate religious symbols like the Christian cross were banned.
Media reports had said that parents of Christian students then referred to the Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai protesting the new regulation, and the latter tasked Bishop Boulos Sayyah to handle the matter.
Bou Saab met an envoy representing the parents and promised to take action, but advised them “to avoid conflict with the school,” the report said.
According to the report, Bou Saab said both the hijab and the cross were “signs of religious faith.”
“Either we allow both of them, or we oblige schools to ban the hijab and the cross,” the report quoted him saying.