On Friday (28 August), the Constitutional Court heard the case of Ecclesia de Lange v Methodist Church of South Africa. This is the case where the Methodist Church discontinued De Lange’s services as ordained minister of the Church, following her announcement that she intended marrying her same-sex partner. Having lost in the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal, De Lange appealed to the Constitutional Court (the highest court in the country) and is asking the Court to find that the Church unfairly discriminated against her on the basis of sexual orientation.

This is undoubtedly the most important case for religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church that has ever come before our courts, and one that could open the door to the courts dictating to the Church what she may and may not believe, preach and how she should govern her internal affairs (i.e. to religious persecution in South Africa). For more information about the potential ramifications of this case, see http://forsa.org.za/lesbian-ministers-case-in-constitutional-court-in-august/.

Recognising what a critical case this is for the Church in South Africa and one in which the Church’s voice should be heard, FOR SA on Friday asked the Constitutional Court for permission to join the proceedings as a “Friend of the Court”. The good news is that the Court heard us and granted FOR SA an opportunity until next Friday, 11 September to file papers and put our case before the Court, (as we are now in the process of doing with the help of attorneys Motla Conradie Inc and Adv Reg Willis, who represented FOR SA in the Constitutional Court and have agreed to act in the matter on a pro bono basis).

Call to Action:

To date, leaders / churches representing approx. 6 million people have joined as members of FOR SA. Our hope is that all who have signed up, will stand with us to defend the autonomy of the Church – even if they themselves hold to a different view point to the Methodist Church on this particular issue. Remember, our rallying point is that while churches may disagree with each other on matters of theology, we can agree on this: it is not for the State (government / courts) to tell us what we may and may not believe, preach and how we should run our internal affairs! In this matter, FOR SA (as Friend of the Court) will therefore defend the principle of religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church, rather than the particular standpoint adopted by the Methodist Church.

Practically, “standing with us” means that we will be able to include your number of congregants, in the number of people represented by FOR SA in this case. In other words, FOR SA will be able to put to the Court that we represent / speak on behalf of a certain number of people in South Africa (hopefully millions!), thus presenting a strong and united front to the Court which it cannot ignore.

If you have signed up as a member of FOR SA and you do not want FOR SA to represent you on this issue (i.e. to keep the Church free from interference by the State in its doctrines and rules of internal governance) however and prefer to “opt out” on this particular issue / case, please let us have your written confirmation of such by no later than this week Friday, 4 September at 16:00, failing which we shall assume that you are standing with us on this issue of protecting religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church. (Of course, should you have any questions in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact us also).

If you are not a signed-up member of FOR SA but would like to stand with FOR SA on this particular issue, please send an e-mail to nadene.badenhorst@forsa.org.za as soon as possible, indicating your name; the name of your church / organisation; the name of your denomination; the number of congregants represented by you; and your contact details, so that we may get in touch with you.

The leadership of FOR SA (incl. Andrew Selley, Moss Ntlha and Michael Cassidy) agree that if ever there was a time for the Church to stand united, it is NOW! Together, and with God, we can make a difference – for His glory and our good!

Adv Nadene Badenhorst
LEGAL COUNSEL