This is an update on the latest developments regarding the CRL Rights Commission’s (CRL) Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems. As you know, FOR SA and many from across the faith community of South Africa have been closely tracking this issue. There has been a near unanimous and strong objection to the CRL’s recommendation that all religious practitioners and places of worship should be licensed by the CRL, since this would result in the State ultimately controlling religion in South Africa. This outcome – if approved – would represent perhaps the greatest threat to religious freedom that this nation has yet faced.
FOR SA is grateful for the amazing support we have received from the religious community in this matter, and for the amount of time and energy that you have given by preparing and presenting submissions, attending meetings and engaging with government structures. Without this groundswell of opposition, FOR SA believes that we would be facing a very different outcome than the one which appears to have the support of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).
COGTA met on Tuesday, 30th January to discuss their draft report (in response to the CRL’s Report) following the two days of meetings in November 2017 when a broad-based representation of the religious community presented COGTA with their views and serious concerns on the CRL’s report. The purpose of the Tuesday meeting was for COGTA to consider their recommendations on the “next steps” that they will send through for consideration by the National Assembly.
At the meeting, which was attended by FOR SA, COGTA began by commending the CRL for the hard work they had done in preparing the report and in bringing a focus on an area where there were evidently areas of abuse which might otherwise have been overlooked. However, they observed that every submission received from the religious community had condemned these types of abusive practices, while at the same time expressing an almost unanimous view that these problems would not be resolved by the recommendations in the CRL’s report. Instead, there was an overwhelming appeal by the religious community that it should be given the opportunity to put its house in order by developing its own solutions to the issues identified in the CRL’s report.
Following some robust discussion among its members, COGTA indicated that since the religious sector had agreed that there were problems, it should indeed be given the opportunity to self-regulate by finding its own solutions. They therefore supported a proposal for a national consultative conference, where a full discussion could take place on the issues raised in the CRL’s report. They further suggested that this could include the development of a “Code of Ethics” based upon the Religious Freedom Charter, which it noted was already widely adopted and supported by the religious community.
The Committee also noted that there are already laws in place which address many of the issues highlighted in the CRL’s report, but that these are either not being applied or not being properly enforced. It recommended that this be rectified with immediate effect and, where necessary, that relevant legislation be strengthened to ensure proper compliance and accountability. In this regard, the NPO Act was specifically mentioned since if all religious organisations are registered as non-profit organisations, the provisions of this Act already require financial accountability and other documentation which will help to ensure that proper governance is in place. While recognising that belief cannot be put on trial, COGTA also recommended that existing advertising standards be applied more rigorously to ensure that religious organisations cannot use the media to sell products or make misleading claims that cannot be substantiated.
Significantly, no member of the COGTA Committee endorsed the CRL’s proposal to license and regulate religion, or recommended that it be forwarded for adoption and implementation by Parliament.
FOR SA is very encouraged by these outcomes and we commend COGTA on the balanced and reasoned approach it has taken in making recommendations that take into account the serious issues raised by the CRL’s report, while respecting the capacity of the religious community to find viable, sustainable and self-regulating solutions. FOR SA is fully supportive of an initiative by the religious community to convene such a meeting to put in place a process to address these issues. We trust that the outcome of this process will help to ensure that religious freedom and religious responsibility become synonymous so that we can continue to enjoy these cherished freedoms without undue interference from the State.
Please note that this communication can only report on the verbal recommendations that were made by COGTA and that it has not yet been adopted in its final form. However, FOR SA is very encouraged by the direction this is heading, which is certainly the result of the weight of pressure from the religious community and our commitment and determination to constructively engage in this process. We thank you again for the contribution you have made and ask you to continue to keep this matter in prayer until it is finalised.
Support FOR SA
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. You can help FOR SA protect our freedom by:
- Making a financial contribution to FOR SA at http://forsa.org.za/donate/ As a non-profit organisation, we are entirely dependent upon God’s grace for finances. Your generosity will help make a significant difference as we work to fulfil our mission to keep the Gospel free by advocating for religious freedom. We appreciate every gift, big or small!
- Signing up (at no cost) to FOR SA at http://forsa.org.za/contact-us/join-us/ and subscribing to our Newsletter.
- Praying for us as we defend this precious freedom before government and courts of law.
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- Informing us, should you become aware of any case in which religious freedom is threatened.