AfriForum studies judgement in schools’ religion case – community’s right of choice of a school’s ethos must be protected

AfriForum believes that the judgement delivered today in the South Gauteng High Court in the so-called schools’ religion case needs to be studied in detail to reach a decision regarding the legal path forward. The civil rights organisation also feels strongly about the principle emphasised by this judgement, namely that parents need to make use of existing channels to prevent discrimination against their children on the grounds of religion. At the same time, AfriForum is still of the opinion that a community must be able to decide regarding the religious ethos of a school.

According to Carien Bloem, AfriForum’s Project Coordinator for Education, governing bodies of public schools are elected democratically. If they decide on a certain religious ethos for a school, it must be executable without excluding other learners. As thousands of parents confirmed to AfriForum, this is also currently the case at public schools. The degree to which the judgement is affecting this right will determine further legal action the parties in the case will embark on.

The case between the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) and the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy that was heard in May 2017, followed after six schools, namely Laerskool Randhart, Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Hoërskool Linden, Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Oudtshoorn Gimnasium were taken to court by the latter organisation due to their religious ethos.

Antichristian fundamentalists threatened as far back as October 2009 to try and remove religion in schools. At that time AfriForum already took a strong stance and said that schools would be supported against legal action of this nature. FEDSAS represented the six schools in the case, with AfriForum responsible for the legal costs of approximately R5,8 million.

AfriForum is concerned about attempts of organisations such as the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy, as well as the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) to regulate the practice of religion. “If individuals abuse religion, specific action must be taken against them. However, it cannot be used as an excuse to deny the rest of the community their rights,” states Bloem.

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