Rastafarian Youth Wins Case Against School Who Told Him to Cut Dreadlocks
Rastafarians in London have good reason to celebrate this week.
Last year, Chikayzea Flanders was a student at Fulham Boys School in London. On the first day, he was taken aside and told that his dreadlocks didn't adhere to the schools uniform policy. They said he would either have to cut his hair or face suspension and other disciplinary actions until he complied. 1
According to the school's official website, Fulham Boys School was "built upon Christian principles ... providing opportunities for boys from the local community to achieve success regardless of background, ethnicity and ability."2 It might be helpful for the staff of Fulham to read a few passages from the Bible upon which those Christian principles are based, to understand more about how dreadlocks became integral to the practice of Rastafari:
"Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD.. All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow." (Numbers 6:2,5) 3
Distraught about the prospects of disciplinary action, Chikayzea went home and told his family of the ultimatum. Immediately, they took legal action in defense of their son and their faith. Had this been merely an issue of fashion, the school may have been justified in its approach. But as Rastafarians, our dreadlocks are not a fashion statement but an affirmation of our faith. Thus, the schools mandate is a clear violation of laws guaranteeing freedom of religion.
The family soon enlisted the help of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an organization that "has responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws."4 The EHRC agreed to represent the family in court, which led to the recent settlement between the two parties. David Isaac, who heads the organization, said:
"At the heart of this issue is a young boy who is entitled to express his religious beliefs and access an education. We are pleased that the school has acknowledged their failings in this instance and has agreed to revise its policies. We funded this case because no child should be prevented from attending their chosen school because of inflexible uniform policies that discriminate against children on the basis of their race or religious beliefs."5
An agreement was reached between the Rastafarians and Fulham Boys School where both sides acknowledged that the schools enforcement of the uniform policy, which banned dreadlocks for adherents of the Rastafarian faith, resulted in "indirect discrimination." The school agreed to review their policy to ensure its compatibility with anti-discrimination legislation. The court also ordered the school to pay Chikayzea and his family a settlement and cover all court costs.
While this may be a promising step forward for the Rastafari community worldwide, let us not forget that it's only a step. The road ahead is long. The journey will not be easy. For every story that ends with the triumph of right over wrong like this one, there are other untold stories of similar discrimination against Rastafarians with a not-so-positive outcome.
Any time our religious and cultural practices are used as justification for discrimination against us, it is an infringement of our basic human rights. Those rights, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights championed by Haile Selassie I, are the basis of our continued efforts. Let us continue in the struggle for justice and full legal recognition among the nations of the earth.