Tonga debates Sunday bakery ban

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Nuku’alofa, Tonga

The president of the Adventist Church in Tonga has joined other Christian leaders in urging the government to reinstate a ban on bakeries doing business on Sunday. 

The government has taken us seriously. They’re moving on it.

The ban was suspended as an emergency measure after a cyclone in 1982 but, after public debate and pressure from churches, is slated to be re-enacted from July 3. 

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is in a unique position in Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati. Due to changes in the international dateline, the Church officially recognises Sunday as the seventh day of the week and the legitimate Sabbath. 

Pastor Saia Vaea Vea, president of the Adventist Church in Tonga, said he was among a delegation of Christian leaders who spoke to Tonga’s prime minister and other government ministers last month. “The government has taken us seriously,” he said. “They’re moving on it.” 

The issue has sparked considerable debate in Tonga, with critics of the ban saying it’s inconsistent that restaurants are still allowed to operate on Sundays. Many of these premises are operated by non-Christian Chinese migrants.

Despite Tonga’s clear identity as a Christian, rather than a pluralistic, country, James Standish, the South Pacific Division’s director for public affairs and religious liberty, has concerns about laws intended to enforce religious observance, even if they do not directly affect Sabbath-keepers. 

“Seventh-day Adventists have long held the view that restrictions on Sunday trading are a violation of religious freedom,” he said. “Rather, we support the rights of the individual to choose which day, if any, they take as a work day or a holy day.”