For immediate release
PARLIAMENT HEARS RELIGIOUS LEADERS’ INPUT ON THE CRL REPORT
By Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
At Parliament on Tuesday, 17th and Wednesday 18th October, the religious community of South Africa had opportunity to address the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio on the CRL Rights Commission’s (CRL) Final Report on the “Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems”.
The CRL had presented this Report to COGTA on June 27th and claimed that their recommendations to regulate and license all religious practitioners and places of worship were widely supported by the faith community. However, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) were present at this meeting and were able to inform COGTA that this was not an accurate statement. FOR SA then appealed for COGTA to allow further input from the religious community before taking any decision on whether (or not) to forward the CRL’s Report to the National Assembly.
The meetings this week were well attended by a strong representation of the Christian community in particular, with presentations being made by, amongst others, The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA), the South African Catholic Bishops’ Council (SACBC), the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), the Assemblies of God (AoG), the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, as well as several major structures representing mainly African “independent” churches such as the All Africa Federation of Churches (AAFC) and the Christian Ministers Council of South Africa (CMCSA). Submissions were also made on important developments in the training and educational sector by the Association of Christian Religious Practitioners (ACRP) and high level legal advice and input was given by the SA Council for Religious Rights and Freedoms (CRRF) who oversee the SA Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms, and the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) who warned that the CRL’s recommendations were being viewed with concern by international human rights agencies such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Representations were also made by some royal households and African traditional health practitioners.
While a handful of small churches/organisations spoke in favour of the CRL’s proposed regulation of religion, the overwhelming majority of presentations by major churches and organisations were firmly opposed thereto and called upon COGTA to reject the recommendations contained in the CRL’s Report. While there was a unanimous and complete condemnation of those who commit criminal acts or who perpetrate any harm in the name of religion or under the guise of religious freedom, it was made clear that State regulation and the compulsory licensing of religious practitioners and places of worship by the CRL as an institution of State were not seen as an acceptable, workable or even necessary solutions.
The CRL, in their final presentation, failed to meaningfully address any of the substantive legal and practical concerns raised by many over the two days, and as a result missed a golden opportunity to show willingness to engage meaningfully with the broader faith community. Instead, the CRL chose to focus much of their presentation on attacking FOR SA and made the bizarre claim that most of the presentations made against their Report seemed to have been taken from posts on FOR SA’s Facebook page. A further embarrassment for the CRL came in the form of a challenge by a COGTA Committee member, who presented documentation which proved that the CRL had openly mislead Parliament by saying, in the recent presentation of their Annual Report to Parliament, that they had secured support for their recommendations from certain major Church organisations when they clearly knew that this was untrue.
In summarising the meetings, the COGTA Chair said that the Committee will now have further discussions before deciding whether to accept or reject the CRL’s Report. It is impossible at this stage to say how long their decision will take. It was also noted by some of the COGTA Committee members that more discussion with other religious groupings was needed, and it is therefore possible that more meetings may well take place.
As an interim measure, it is very possible that GOGTA may find in favour of convening a National Consultative Conference of all religions. This was a suggestion which was proposed by FOR SA in its opening address, and was supported and endorsed by the majority of the presentations. Such a conference would have the aims of fostering greater mutual accountability to principles for sound corporate governance and ethical practices amongst ministers of religion and to examine the viability of establishing an ecumenical body (or bodies) that could provide appropriate mechanisms to support greater corporate governance and ethical practices in the religious community.
FOR SA remains committed to the process of addressing the serious issues identified in the CRL’s Report and developing solutions BY the religious community, FOR the religious community on a voluntary, mutually accountable and truly self-regulatory basis.
For more information:
Executive Director, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
Cell: 072 270 1217