Freedom of Religion at Risk in South Africa
Last week saw the ANC government advocating a series of legislation that could pose some of the greatest threats to religious freedom and free speech ever seen in our country. On Wednesday 26 October 2016, the CRL Rights Commission released its report on what they called the "Commercialisation" of religion and "abuse of people's belief systems" on its www.crlcommission.org.za website under Commercialisation Report. Pages 31 to 39 contain the Commission's proposals for regulation of religious groups.
Redefining Hate Speech
In another threat to religious freedom, the "Hate Speech" Bill was released in the same week as the CRL's Report. The Bill's extremely broad definition of hate speech under section 4 of the Bill includes in its scope any communication which is considered "abusive or insulting" and intended to "bring into contempt or ridicule" a person, or group of persons, on the basis of their gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. This includes email, or social media communications as well as teachings from a pulpit, or in a Bible study. Instead of an objective definition of what constitutes "hate speech" (for example those who sing "Kill the Boer! Kill the Farmer!" or those advocating Islamic Jihad to behead Christians), this bill seeks to focus on subjective definitions of where an individual may feel offended, even if that was not the intention. "He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord." Proverbs 17:15
There is No Need for New Laws to Deal with Abuses
The CRL's Report proposes state regulation of churches and other religious groups. There are always abuses, in any area of life, including in religion. However, the answer is not to ask, or allow, state authorities to interfere in religious freedom. With regulation come penalties and severe consequences. There are already laws that deal with issues of commercial exploitation and abuse. There is no need for new laws. Fraud, misappropriation of funds, contravening banking laws, educational laws and others give more than enough opportunities for the relevant authorities to prosecute crimes.
State Regulation of Religion has had Disastrous Consequences
If we do not learn from history then we will suffer consequences. Regulating religion has a very disturbing history. The establishment of the Council for the Affairs of Religions and Cults in the Soviet Union (later the Council for Religious Affairs) led to the closing down of 49,000 churches and the execution of over 200,000 ministers by the Cheka, NKVD and KGB in Russia. Unregistered Churches, including over 10,000 house churches in Cuba, have been closed and many thousands of Christian leaders arrested under their secular state. Last year (2015), over 2,000 churches linked to the legally recognised Assemblies of God denomination were declared illegal by the Cuban government. In Red China arrests, raids and demolitions of churches that are considered unregistered are taking place to this day.
How State Interference Looks Like in Schools
State abuses are huge in their own schools. Sex education, occultic setwork books, teaching the mechanics of vile fornication, whoremongering and perversion, along with actual child abuse and paedophilia by state teachers are rampant. Yet, rather than cleaning up their own acts in their own state schools, the ANC government prefers to send "inspectors" to harass and waste the time and money of private and Christian schools. The Education Department admits that most of their state schools are "dysfunctional" and yet they still think they have the time to harass private Christian schools, which have far higher standards and far better results.
State Registration of Colleges have Resulted in Extra Expenses and Waste of Time
Even Bible colleges as respected as Bible Institutes have been placed on the list of Bogus Institutions by the Ministry of Higher Education! State universities have riots and arson attacks, yet they presume to lecture us on higher education!
State Regulation of Christian Community Radio Stations have Resulted in Closures
Similarly, there have been numerous attempts of the state to regulate Community Christian radio stations and numerous Christian radio stations have actually been closed down by the IBA and ICASA.
Registering is just the first step to regulating, controlling and in many cases, closing down, prosecuting and persecuting. The history of Departments of Religious Affairs in the Soviet Union, Red China, Cuba, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, North Korea, Vietnam, etc. should be an urgent warning as to what is at stake. These are dangerous laws and they are setting dangerous precedents to intimidate, erode, subvert, derail, undermine, side-line and overwhelm Christian ministries. "But Peter and John answered and said to them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge." Acts 4:19
A Clear and Immediate Threat to Freedom
The lack of consultation in the process followed and the magnitude and scope of the legislation envisaged poses a clear and immediate threat to religious freedom in South Africa. It is absolutely essential that Christians stand up, speak out and oppose this attempt at interfering in religious freedom, freedom of association and freedom of speech in South Africa. Religious Freedom is Not Negotiable.
Reject and Resist All Attempts to Erode Religious Freedom
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrims Progress, ended up in prison, because he was a dissenter, not recognised by the state. The proposed bills seek to define what a "recognised religion" is and to "issue and withdraw licences" to religious leaders, to "define and authorise places of worship" under "operating licences". All of this constitutes unnecessary, time wasting, money wasting, intrusion that can only do violence to the Bill of Rights and the fundamental rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of worship, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage…. For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." Galatians 5:1,13
Action You and Your Congregation Can Take
"Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil..." 1 Peter 2:16
Dr. Peter Hammond
Africa Christian Action
PO Box 23632
Cape Town South Africa
Tel: 021-689 4481