Mark A. Kellner
Five medical students attending the American University of the Caribbean will be able to observe the Biblical Sabbath, or Saturday, as their day of worship while continuing their education, the Court of First Instance ruled on Aug. 20.
In turn, the school, which actively recruits students from North America, has told attorneys it will schedule exams at times other than Saturday. An Aug. 28 exam, scheduled before the court ruling, was supplemented with an Aug. 29 test.
“The university will no longer schedule exams on Saturday,” said Edwin J. Maduro, an attorney in St. Maarten, in a telephone interview. He said that although school officials had previously balked at accommodating the students, who are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they agreed following the court ruling. The students are Milind Borge, Rosann Bryan, Sung Cho, Jessica Jacobs and Alex Negrillo.
“We achieved exactly what we wanted,” said Maduro.
The constitution of the Netherlands Antilles protects freedom of religion, Maduro explained, saying Judge H. Warning told J.G. Snow, an attorney for the American University, that the school would be bound by that provision. However, the school’s handbook also said the American University “will use its best endeavors” to schedule exams during the regular workweek, Judge Warning noted.
The school apparently did not do this, the judge said, and the court order instructed the school to abide by its stated policy. Facing the threat of an injunction, Maduro said, the university said it would avoid scheduling further Saturday exams.
“This is a refreshing result where the church has been able to secure the equal rights of its members,” said Mitchell G. Tyner, a staff counsel for the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters. “I believe it’s a decision that will have application beyond the Netherlands Antilles and be influential in other countries of the Caribbean.”
Student Milind Borge told Adventist News Network he was “ecstatic” about the ruling: “It’s something I normally would have expected to take place under Dutch law,” Borge said. “It just surprised me in terms of the resistance we’re receiving from the school. In terms of getting this verdict, we’ll be extremely happy and we’ll know we can stay here and continue our education here at this school.”
Adventist Pastor Moses Mitchell, who oversees five congregations with nearly 3,000 members on the island, said the students’ tenacity was a positive factor.
“I think the great thing is that the students did not give in; we just don’t compromise when there is a challenge to our beliefs,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview. “For the Adventist [Church], it’s also a big lift, because I think folks [will] begin to pay more respect to the principle that our students upheld.”
The American University of the Caribbean was established on the island of Montserrat in 1978; following the activation of a volcano there, the school relocated to St. Maarten in 1995. Overseas medical schools have become a popular destination for many students in recent years.