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Rastafarian Teen Fights to Keep Dreadlocks

Tyrone Iras Marhguy, 17, poses for a photograph at his home in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 10, 2021.

Tyrone Iras Marhguy had to make a difficult decision after being accepted to the high school of his choice: his faith or his education.

An official at the academically elite Achimota School in Ghana told the teen he would have to cut his dreadlocks before enrolling. For Marhguy, who is a Rastafarian, cutting his dreadlocks is non-negotiable, so he and his family asked the courts to intervene.

"I manifest my faith through my hair," Marguy, 17, told The Associated Press. "I assume it to be like telling a Christian not to read the Bible or go to church."

Hair is an important part of the Rastafarian faith; believers grow their hair out naturally in locks in obedience to Biblical commandments. It is a public symbol "that we have made a vow," said Tereo Kwame Marhguy, who is Tyrone's father.

Although many Rastafarians believe in the Bible, it is a distinct religion guided by unique practices including the adherence to a strict vegetarian diet, the use of cannabis for spiritual purposes, and the avoidance of alcohol.

Short hair is a requirement at the Achimota School, a co-ed public institution in the northern outskirts of Ghana's capital, Accra. The school did not respond to the AP's repeated requests for comment, but argued in court documents that all boys, regardless of their religion, must "keep hair low and neatly trimmed."

The school was founded nearly a century ago during British colonial rule. Among its alumni are many of Ghana's social and political elite, including four former presidents, as well as the former presidents of Zimbabwe and Gambia.

Unhappy about the school's reluctance to accommodate their son's beliefs, the Marhguys sued Achimota School and the government in March. A separate suit was filed by another Rastafarian student, Oheneba Kwaku Nkrabea, who also was denied admission to the school.

The Marhguys' ongoing case is one of many instances in which Ghana's public high schools, mostly started by Christian missionaries during and after European colonization, have become a battleground for the fight for religious tolerance. In a separate incident earlier this year, a Muslim student was prevented by school authorities from fasting during Ramadan, Islam's holiest month.

Ghana, a majority-Christian country, prides itself as democratic and religiously tolerant in a region plagued by interreligious conflicts. Government and faith leaders have signaled their commitment to religious harmony, including recent financial donations by top officials, who are Muslim, to church-building projects.

For the Marhguys, the case highlights the discrimination Rastafarians face in Ghana, where they are a small but visible minority. They hope that with the attention the case has received, local attitudes will become more tolerant.

A high court judge ruled in May that the school's ultimatum "amounts to an illegal and unconstitutional attempt to suspend the manifestation of the applicant's constitutionally guaranteed freedom to practice and manifest his religion," according to court documents viewed by the AP.

While the school has admitted Tyrone with his uncut hair into its science program, the school and Ghana's attorney general have commenced legal proceedings in the Court of Appeal to reverse the earlier ruling.

The attorney general and the information ministry did not respond to repeated attempts by the AP for an interview.

The legal standoff, fronted by the attorney general, has raised questions about the country's self-image as the region's most stable democracy.

"Inter-religious tolerance in Ghana is very fragile," said John Azumah, visiting professor of interfaith dialogue at Yale Divinity School and executive director of The Sanneh Institute at the University of Ghana. "It looks like religious minorities have the heavier burden to sustain inter-religious tolerance. It has to be inter-religious tolerance on the terms of the Christian majority."

Despite being offered a scholarship to study at a private school where he wouldn't be required to cut his hair, Tyrone, with the support of his family, has chosen to stay at Achimota School. Nkrabea, the other student -- who also won his suit against the school – has decided, though, to take the scholarship.

The Marhguys believe they have been divinely chosen to keep fighting the school so no other student has to choose between their faith and their education again.

"They have done it to other people before, and they just kept quiet and walked away," said Tereo Marhguy. "Jah, the Most High, has given us the authority and the strength to do it."

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Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney implored new college graduates to not compromise when it comes to the truth, excoriating her House Republican colleagues for not doing enough to combat former President Donald Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen.

In a commencement speech at Colorado College, the Wyoming Republican repeated her fierce criticisms of Trump but steered clear of talking about his 2024 reelection campaign or her own political future.

Cheney, who graduated from Colorado College in 1988, recalled being a political science student walking into a campus building where a Bible verse was inscribed above the entrance that read, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

"After the 2020 election and the attack of January 6th, my fellow Republicans wanted me to lie. They wanted me to say the 2020 election was stolen, the attack of January 6th wasn't a big deal, and Donald Trump wasn't dangerous," Cheney said Sunday in Colorado Springs, connecting her experiences as a student to her work in the U.S. House of Representatives. "I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership."

In three terms in office, Cheney rose to the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the House, a job she lost after voting to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and then not relenting in her criticism of the former president.

Cheney's speech touched on themes similar to those she has promoted since leaving office in January: addressing her work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and standing up to the threat she believes Trump poses to democracy. She also encouraged more women to run for office and criticized one of the election-denying attorneys who worked for Trump after the 2020 election for recent remarks about college students voting.

"Cleta Mitchell, an election denier and adviser to former President Trump, told a gathering of Republicans recently that it is crucially important to make sure that college students don't vote," Cheney said. "Those who are trying to unravel the foundations of our republic, who are threatening the rule of law and the sanctity of our elections, know they can't succeed if you vote."

In an audio recording of Mitchell's presentation from a recent Republican National Committee retreat, she warns of polling places on college campuses and the ease of voting as potential problems, The Washington Post reported.

Most students and parents in the audience applauded throughout Cheney's remarks, yet some booed. Some students opposing the choice of Cheney as speaker turned their chairs away from the stage as she spoke.

Cheney's busy speaking schedule and subject matter have fueled speculation about whether she may enter the 2024 GOP presidential primary since she left office. Candidates ranging from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have calibrated their remarks about Trump, aiming to counter his attacks without alienating the supporters that won him the White House seven years ago.

Though some have offered measured criticisms, no declared or potential challenger has embraced anti-Trump messaging to the same extent as Cheney. She did not reference her plans on Sunday but has previously said she remains undecided about whether she wants to run for president.

Though she would face an uphill battle, Cheney's fierce anti-Trump stance and her role as vice chairwoman of the House committee elevated her platform high enough to call on a national network of donors and Trump critics to support a White House run.

A super PAC organized to support of her candidacy has remained active, including purchasing attack ads on New Hampshire airwaves against Trump this month.

After leaving office and being replaced by a Trump-backed Republican who defeated her in last year's primary, Cheney was appointed to a professorship at the University of Virginia and wrote "Oath and Honor," a memoir scheduled to hit shelves in November.

Two of Cheney's five children as well as her mother are also graduates of the liberal arts college.

Cheney's speaking tour appears to be picking up. She is scheduled to appear Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan.

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