Kenyan Seventh-Day Adventists want religious freedom – and atheists have become their greatest ally

In Western Kenya, a group of atheists want to protect religious freedom.

After a principal suspended 17 Seventh-day Adventist students for refusing to sit for exams held on Saturday, when they observe sabbath, the country’s main association of atheists threatened to sue him for infringing on the students’ religious freedom.

Atheists in Kenya Society (AIK) gave the head teacher a seven-day ultimatum to rescind his decision or face legal action – he rescinded and readmitted the students in late January.

The drama began when Dr John Oloo, principal of Kabianga High School, announced that he had suspended the students after they boycotted a standardised exam and instead went to worship at a Seventh-day Adventist church. A distinguishing practice of Adventists from other Christians is their observance of the Jewish calendar, which includes Saturday worship and rest from work.

Oloo had argued that he instructed the students to sit for the exams before their Sabbath started, at 5:30am. But the Seventh-day Adventist Church keeps the sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, believing God set apart the seventh day of the creation week to be a day of rest to honor him.

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