In 2013, an atheist couple laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) against Joshua Generation Church (“JoshGen”), a well-known church in the Western and Southern Cape. The couple’s complaint was not based on any actual incident of child abuse, but targeted the Biblical teaching (based on Scriptures such as Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 23:13-14) that parents have a duty to give their children appropriate guidance, including at times to spank them (at times, when necessary, always in love, and always within the legal bounds of “reasonableness” and “moderation”) for their education and benefit.

In its Report released in January 2016, the HRC found that spanking in the home violates children’s and other constitutional rights, and is for that reason unconstitutional and unlawful. As a result, the SAHRC recommended that:

  • JoshGen gives the HRC a written undertaking that it will desist from advocating spanking as a means of disciplining children;
  • The Church removes all references to physical punishment / chastisement or correction from its teaching materials;
  • The Church’s trainers and pastors involved in presenting its parenting course, take a course in alternative forms of non-violent discipline of children (“sensitisation training”);
  • The remaining recommendations were directed at the Department of Social Development (DSD) and Parliament, with a view to initiating amendments to the Children’s Act so as to ban spanking in the home.

CALL TO ACTION:  Since 2013, JoshGen has expended a great deal of time, effort and money on litigation in this matter. As this matter which is likely to end up in Court, affects not only JoshGen but all churches and indeed believers in SA, FOR SA invites you to stand with us in protecting religious freedom and free speech in SA, by:

  • Giving us your mandate to stand with JoshGen on this issue:
    • MEMBERS OF FOR SA: If you have already joined as a member of FOR SA and given us a general mandate to represent you in matters affecting religious freedom, please advise us if, on this particular issue, you do not wish to stand with us, by e-mailing us at legal@forsa.org.za by Sunday, 13 March. If we have not received written notification from you by then, we shall assume that we have your support in protecting religious freedom in this particular case;
    • NON-MEMBERS: If you have not yet joined as a member of FOR SA and/or given us a general mandate to represent you in matters affecting religious freedom, please let us know if, on this particular issue, you wish to stand with us, by e-mailing us at legal@forsa.org.za by Sunday,13 March.
  • Let us have your details so that we can inform you of any protest marches that may take place; and
  • Making a contribution to the legal fees in this matter. (FOR SA’s banking details appear at the top of this Newsletter. Reference: Spanking).

Importantly, contrary to what the HRC’s Report suggests, JoshGen does not actively “promote” or “require” members to spank their children. The Church does however believe, teach and preach (the whole of) the Bible, as it has every right to do, including therefore the Scriptures on child correction.  How those Scriptures are interpreted and applied by parents however, is up to each parent to decide for themselves because every child is unique. In this, JoshGen is supported by religious leaders representing 12 million people in SA.

The HRC’s Report is greatly concerning. It crosses the sacred line of family, and interferes with the freedom of parents to raise their children according to their own moral or religious convictions.  Should the Report remain unchallenged and be accepted by Parliament, potentially responsible parents who love their children and only want what is best for them, could find themselves arrested and prosecuted on charges of assault, and have their children removed from them and placed in foster care (as is already happening in countries like Sweden where spanking is forbidden). One can only imagine the damage that this will do to children and families in SA!

The Report further violates freedom of religion (s 16), free speech (s 16), as well as the rights of religious communities to practice their faith (s 31). As such, it impacts and affects not only JoshGen, but all churches and Christians, and in fact believers across different faith groups, in SA.

It is not the place of the HRC, as a secular institution, to tell believers how to read and interpret their sacred texts. That is between them and God alone. The Report puts believers before the choice of obeying the law, or obeying their faith (with legal consequences should they choose to obey their faith instead). This is unconscionable and unconstitutional. Should the HRC’s recommendations remain unchallenged, it would open the door to the HRC censoring any religious belief and speech in SA, leaving any sacred text they disagree with, vulnerable and at risk of being banned.

In the circumstances, JoshGen has no choice but to appeal the findings and recommendations of the HRC, which is due end March – for the sake of protecting families, and religious freedom in SA.

For the Media Releases issued by FOR SA in relation to this matter, see:

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