On Monday 15th May, the controversial case of OGOD versus Laerskool Randhart & others will come before the Johannesburg High Court. The case, which has been described as a “watershed” case and may well end up in the Constitutional Court, concerns the right of public schools to align themselves with a particular religious (in this case, Christian) ethos or values, and to practise religious (in this case, Christian) observances.
Although the case is specifically against the six public schools cited in the application (Laerskool Randhart, Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Hoërskool Linden, Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Langenhoven Gimnasium), the outcome will have a direct impact on all 24,000+ public schools in South Africa. Should OGOD (Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie) be successful in Court, it can mean the end of (even voluntary participation in) Scripture reading and prayer, praise and worship, SCA and other Christian activities in public schools.
“The case is important because it asks, what is the place of religion in public schools? That there is a place for religious observances in public schools, is clear. Section 15(2) of our Constitution specifically allows for religious observances in State or State-aided institutions including public schools, subject to certain conditions”, says Michael Swain, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA).
Commenting further, Swain says that “the guarantee in our Constitution is freedom of religion. OGOD, an atheist organisation, is advocating in this case for freedom from religion. The question that the Court will have to decide, is how to apply this right in the rainbow nation of South Africa where every person and learner (Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, etc) has the right to have his/her religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled?”
OGOD’s application is opposed by the six schools, represented by the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS). Other parties include the Ministers of Basic Education, and Justice and Correctional Service. Various organisations have been admitted as “Friends of the Court”, including the SA Council for Religious Rights and Freedoms (SACRRF) who represent approximately 22 million+ believers from diverse faith groups in South Africa, the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (CASAC), and Cause for Justice.
The case took an interesting turn towards the end of last month, when the SA Onderwysunie (SAOU) announced its withdrawal as “Friend of the Court”. The withdrawal followed an outcry by SAOU’s members, the public and various organisations, who were upset that the union, in its last papers filed with the court, had made a complete turnaround from the position initially held (i.e. supporting the schools’ right to a religious ethos).
Consequent to SAOU’s withdrawal, both Solidarity and Afriforum have now applied to be admitted as “Friends of the Court” – as has the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB).
The case has been set down for hearing before a full bench (three Judges) until Wednesday 17th May.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
For further information, please contact:
Executive Director, FOR SA
Cell: 072 270 1217