It has been brought to our attention by friend and ally INcontext Ministries (www.incontextministries.org), that it may be necessary to shed light on and clarify two e-mails that are currently doing the rounds relating to “State Control Religion in South Africa”. (Note that FOR SA is not the author of these e-mails, nor do we have knowledge of the author of these e-mails).

The first email states the following (in various forms):

“that a new bill is intended to limit constitutional freedom of religion and the gospel of Jesus Christ spreading in South Africa; that a new law will go to parliament during March 2017 that will regulate religious freedom in South Africa; that, if the law is passed, Christians will not be able to read or quote certain passages from the Bible; that failure to obey to the new law will carry a three-year prison sentence; that repeat offenders will be jailed for up to ten years; that petitions against the proposed new law can be submitted until 1 December 2016.”

The second email reads as follows:

“Please pray this morning for a key meeting that is taking place at the CRL Rights Commission at 11am. They have produced a report recommending the State regulates religion. There is a huge groundswell of objection to this proposal from across the denominational and faith communities of South Africa as it is a blatant and unacceptable erosion of our constitutional right to freedom of religion. Please pray that their eyes and ears would be opened and that they would listen to the alternative solutions that will resolve the issues and problems they have identified. Please pray that the Body of Christ in South Africa would fully awaken and stand against this assignment of the enemy to silence our witness and our freedom to believe, teach, preach and live out our faith in Jesus.”

Comment on the first e-mail:

It appears as if the first e-mail is intended to be a reference to the new draft Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which can be downloaded from the FOR SA website at http://forsa.org.za/document-library/ (scroll down and click on folder “Hate Speech Bill”).

After government has taken years to prepare the Bill, the Bill was recently published in the Government Gazette and the public was given 5 weeks only (until 1 December 2016) to submit comments on the Bill. According to the Department of Justice, it intended to introduce the Bill by March 2017. (Following a public outcry, the deadline for comments has now been extended to 31 January 2017).

The Bill essentially creates two criminal offences, namely “hate crimes” (a new offence in SA law) and “hate speech” (which is much broader than the “hate speech” provisions currently in SA law). In terms of the Bill, “hate speech” will be punishable by a fine or 3 years’ imprisonment for a first offence, and 10 years for a repeated offence.

To the extent that the e-mail implies that:

  • The INTENTION of the Bill, is to limit religious freedom and the Gospel in South Africa, this is incorrect. The express intention of the Bill, first and foremost, is to combat racism and related intolerance against vulnerable groups in South Africa. Unfortunately however, because of the overbroad definitions in the Bill, the inadvertent EFFECT of the Bill in its current format, may be the limiting of free speech, including ‘religious speech’ (as is already happening in the UK and other Western democracies, where “hate speech” laws are used against Christians by liberal activists driving an anti-religion agenda);  and
  • The Bill specifically and expressly forbids the preaching and teaching of Scriptures which may be regarded as ‘offensive’, this is incorrect. Again, it is the potential OUTWORKING of the Bill in its current format, that is problematic and potentially very dangerous for free speech and religious freedom;
  • The Bill will “regulate religious freedom” in South Africa, this is not correct and confuses the Hate Speech Bill with the CRL Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion (discussed hereunder).

Note that while the Hate Crimes & Hate Speech Bill follows closely on the heels of the Draft National Action Plan (NAP) to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance released for comment earlier this year, it is separate and distinct from the NAP. While the NAP relates specifically to discrimination on the basis of race (exclusively, or in combination with discrimination on one or more other grounds), the scope of the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is much broader than race and includes in its reach intolerance based on a range of other grounds, for e.g. gender, sexual orientation, religion, occupation or trade, even where such intolerance does not take place in combination with racial intolerance (as is the case with the NAP).

While FOR SA commends the express objectives of the Hate Crimes & Hate Speech Bill (namely to combat racism and related intolerance), agrees that “hate crimes” should be prosecuted and offenders punished, and agrees further that “hate speech” in the true (and constitutional) sense of the word should likewise be brought to task, we are concerned that:

  • The timeline for comments on the Bill, is insufficient; and
  • The current definition of “hate speech” in the Bill, is over-broad and will have a chilling effect on free speech and religious freedom. The reality is that “hate speech” is already defined and prohibited by the Constitution and the Equality Act, and can also be prosecuted under the criminal offence of crimen injuria (as in the case of Penny Sparrow). As such, there is no need for an additional law on “hate speech”, which inadvertently may end up doing more harm than good.

Against this background, FOR SA has prepared an online petition which calls on government / Parliament to:

  • Extend the deadline for comments even further, to 1 March 2017; and
  • Ensure that religious freedom remains protected, by the inclusion of a “religious exemption clause” in the Bill.

 

FORSA-CallToAction

 

Comment on the second e-mail:

This e-mail appears to be a reference to a meeting that took place at the CRL Rights Commission’s office on 8 November 2016, and where FOR SA and representatives of the Council for Religious Rights and Freedoms (CRRF) met with the Commission to share certain concerns with regard to the Commission’s recently released Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems. (A copy of the CRL Report can be downloaded from the FOR SA website at http://forsa.org.za/document-library/  – scroll down and click on the folder “CRL Report on Commercialisation of Religion”).

The meeting with the CRL followed two meetings with more than 200 religious leaders in Cape Town and Johannesburg the previous week, to discuss the CRL Report and in particular, the Commission’s proposed regulation of religion in South Africa (which would include the compulsory ‘licencing’ of all religious institutions and practitioners by a Peer Review Council). At these meetings, religious leaders were unanimous in their concern regarding the lack of proper consultation with religious communities before recommending such broad-scale and far-reaching regulation, and the effect that the proposed regulation will have on religious freedom and the autonomy of religious institutions to govern their own affairs free from interference by the State or any regulatory body appointed by, and backed up by the power of, the State.

While FOR SA appreciates that the Commission has legitimate concerns regarding the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by rogue pastors, and is committed to working with the Commission to find constitutionally permissible and workable solutions to the problems identified by them, we are concerned that:

  • The timeline given for comment on the Report, is insufficient. (On request of FOR SA, the deadline for comments has now been extended from 18 November 2016 to 28 February 2017. Even so, we are of the opinion that this is not sufficient time for the level of consultation that needs to take place within religious communities, and propose that the deadline be extended to 1 March 2017);
  • The broad-scale regulation of all religious institutions and practitioners, as proposed by the Commission, is not only unconstitutional but unnecessary, as there are already existing laws in place that can deal with every problem identified by the Commission in its Report. The answer to the legitimate problems identified by the Commission, is therefore not to create another law (that will potentially limit the religious freedom of the large majority of religious institutions and practitioners who are legally compliant), but implementation of the existing laws (in respect of the fraction of the religious community who are not legally complaint and perpetrating abuses in the name of faith).

Against this background, FOR SA has prepared an online petition which calls:

  • On the CRL Rights Commission, to reconsider its recommendations (for the broad-scale regulation of religion in SA); and
  • On government, to ensure that the existing laws are enforced on perpetrators.

 

FORSA-CallToAction

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us, and who has already signed and shared the Petitions! While there is no need to be fearful, we do need to be vigilant and we do need to make our voice heard with regard to these issues which may have a very direct impact on our freedom to believe, preach and teach, and live our lives according to the Word of God, as is our constitutional right.

Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@forsa.org.za.

 

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