UCT Facebook ‘storm’ continues

Zizipho Pae

Zizipho Pae

A week ago, GATEWAY NEWS reported on the “storm” that has erupted over a Facebook post posted by Zizipho Pae, a Christian student of the University of Cape Town (UCT) and member of the University’s Student Representative Council (SRC), on her personal Facebook page. The Facebook post read as follows: “We are institutionalizing and normalizing sin. May God have mercy on us”. (Although the post did not expressly say so, it was intended and interpreted as a comment on the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court, legalising same-sex marriage in all 50 States).

As a result of the post (which the SRC considered as “homophobic” and “hate speech” towards the LGBTIQ community), the SRC suspended Zizi pending an investigation upon their return to campus after 15 July. Zizi’s post also evoked a barrage of comments from fellow students and the public, many of which were abusive and hateful. In one incident, some LGBTIQ students trashed her office, tore down the Bible scriptures posted on her wall and replaced them with threatening messages. (To read last week’s article in GATEWAY NEWS, click here – http://gatewaynews.co.za/uct-student-leader-victimised-over-christian-viewpoint/)

In secular media this week, it was reported that the UCT Queer Revolution (UCTQR) collective had now also filed a complaint against Zizi with the Human Rights Commission (HRC). (To read the article, click here – http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/uct-gay-collective-lodges-complaint-1.1882230?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook#.VZ5qt_mqqkq). At the time of publication of this article, further details of this complaint had not yet become available.

The “birthright” of every South African

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), a non-profit Christian organisation working to protect and promote freedom of religion and the autonomy of the Church in South Africa, met with Zizi this week to discuss the matter. According to Advocate Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA’s Legal Counsel, the leadership of FOR SA is in agreement that this is an attack on free speech and religious freedom in South Africa.

Advocate Badenhorst explains that the Constitution expressly protects freedom of expression (section 16) as well as freedom of conscience, religion and opinion (section 15), as fundamental human rights. She explains further that the Constitutional Court has already determined that religious freedom specifically includes “the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal” (S v Lawrence 1997).

“There can be no doubt that both the freedom to believe, and the freedom to voice one’s beliefs, are constitutionally protected. These freedoms are the birthright of every South African, and no one should be harassed or punished for exercising what our Constitution has freely given them,” Advocate Badenhorst comments.

The true meaning of “hate speech”

Increasingly, Christians who stand up for what they believe, are accused of “advocating hatred” and “promoting violence against LGBTIQ people” in an attempt to intimidate, vilify and ultimately, silence them.  According to Advocate Badenhorst, “ ’hate speech’ is a term that is thrown around all too often and all too easily. These days, anything that is contrary to one’s own worldview, any viewpoint that one disagrees with, is labeled ‘hate speech’.”

But what is “hate speech” in the true, legal sense of the word?  In terms of section 16(2) of the Constitution, two elements must be present for a statement to be considered as “hate speech” and therefore prohibited:

1) It must amount to advocacy of hatred on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender of religion. In this regard, our courts have already decided that mere objection or offence to the statement in question is not enough — the statement must in fact propose, call for, or make a case for hatred, in order to constitute “hate speech”;  and

2) It must amount to incitement to cause harm. In this regard, “harm” is generally not restricted to physical violence, but also includes psychological, emotional and/or social harm. Whether speech does in fact cause harm, must be assessed objectively.

“It is clear that Zizi’s statement on her personal Facebook page does not fulfil either one of these requirements, and is therefore not ‘hate speech’”, says Advocate Badenhorst. As such, FOR SA will be getting involved to lift Zizi’s suspension by the SRC and hopefully help the parties find an amicable solution as soon as possible, which would be in the interest of all.

Stand up and be counted

Around the country, people have expressed their shock and outrage at this blatant attack on religious freedom and free speech. In just four days, more than 2 600 people have signed the online Petition that encourages the public to make a stand for religious freedom and free speech at UCT. The hope is to reach 10 000 signatures within the week.  (To sign the Petition, click here – https://www.change.org/p/uct-vice-chancellor-and-uct-src-president-to-protect-the-rights-to-freedom-of-speech-and-religious-beliefs-at-uct?recruiter=147468415&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_term=des-lg-share_petition-reason_msg).

FOR SA encourages the public to stand up and be counted on this issue. According to Advocate Badenhorst, “whether or not one agrees with Zizi’s religious beliefs and/or statement on Facebook, is irrelevant. The point is that we live in a constitutional democracy where people should be free to believe (or not to believe), and free to speak what they believe (or not believe) — and it is this freedom that we should all be concerned about and speak up for.  A denial of these freedoms is a denial of our hard-earned democracy and an ironic throwback to a time in our history when South Africans were not so free”.

She concluded by saying that “the Preamble of the Constitution proclaims that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it’. This is the assurance given by the Constitution to the LGBTIQ community, but in equal measure to Zizi and other Christians in South Africa. It is our sincere hope that, in this situation, these words will be more than rhetoric and prove to be our reality.”

Via gatewaynews.co.za

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