OGOD Court Case Judgement is Concerning, But Not the End of Religious Freedom for Schools

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The judgement handed down by Judge van der Linde on 28 August, in the South Gauteng High Court, in the OGOD vs 6 public schools case, stated, in short, that School Governing Bodies (SGBs) must amend their policies to not favour, or promote, only one religion at their school. The judge rejected most of OGOD’s demands and asserted religious convictions must be respected.

Parental Concerns Are to be Respected
This judgement is concerning for parents who wish to send their child to a school with a single faith ethos. Parents should be able to decide the religious ethos of the school through the School Governing Body, which has mostly been the case up until now.

Potential Confusion and Complications
An advocate who studied the judgement believes that the court order does not necessarily mean multi-faith school assemblies. What the court said, is that it is for SGBs to go back to the drawing board and work out how they will create an environment where everybody's rights are respected. For some, it may mean they have readings from the Bible, or the Quran, etc. sequentially in the same school assembly; for some, it may mean that they create a space where, simultaneously, but separately, Christians can read the Bible together and Muslims can read their Quran together; etc. Each school must work it out for themselves, taking the imperative of diversity into account, but also doing what works for them.

Parents Must Ensure that Their Child’s Faith is Respected
Even though the judgement seems to undermine the authority of parents to decide the religious ethos of their school, it should benefit Christian parents who have children at, for example, a Muslim ethos school, or even at completely secular school with no religious observances in school assemblies.

This Judgement will be Appealed to Higher Courts
Should the respondents choose to appeal this case (which is likely), it will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal and then to the Constitutional Court and thus school governing bodies will not be legally bound by this decision until such appeals are concluded. In the interim, they will be able to continue as before.

Current Religious Practices at State Schools Remain Unchanged
Also, the individual school’s SGB rules stand until set aside (or amended by the SGBs or on direction of the MEC for Education). In other words, the 24 000 public schools in South Africa can continue with their current religious practices until their SGB has conclusively amended their policies.

Voluntary Christian Associations Must Be Respected
This judgement in no way affects Christian groups such as School Christian Associations who meet, for example, during break times or after school hours on school premises. The judgment confirms that South Africa is not a secular state and upholds section 15(2) of the Constitution, which states that religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions.

Threats to Religious Freedom Need to be Resisted and Opposed
This court order comes in the wake of two other serious threat to religious freedom, namely the CRL’s Report on the Commercialisation of Religion, which recommends the licensing of all religious practitioners, and the so-called “Hate Speech Bill” which could criminalise Christians for preaching anything that is deemed offensive by the hearer. As FORSA has observed, these two proposed pieces of legislation are unnecessary, unworkable and unconstitutional.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free,and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”Galatians 5:1

We encourage Christian parents to be involved in the governing body of their children’s school and seek to make a positive difference.

For a more comprehensive analysis of the judgement, please read Freedom of Religion SA’s article: BREAKING NEWS: Court Says Public Schools May Not Promote A Particular Religion.

See also:
Threats to Freedom of Speech
Schools and Colleges Harrassed by Government

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