FOR SA vs COGTA Minister & Others – what happened?
As you may well be aware, all faith-based gatherings were banned on 29th December, 2020 under the (amended) Adjusted Level 3 regulations. FOR SA subsequently filed papers in the Johannesburg High Court – supported by the leaders of religious organisations representing over 11 million people of faith – to have this ban lifted. The President thereafter announced the lifting of this ban on Monday 1st January, thereby effectively granting the relief we sought – literally on the proverbial steps of the court, since our case was to be heard the following morning.
While we are happy with this initial outcome, it does not address the underlying and concerning pattern that we have noted, since the outset of this pandemic, regarding the way that Government has treated the religious community. Although we recognise any fundamental rights (including religious freedom) can be limited according to s 36 of our Constitution – and that in a state of a national disaster in the form of a health pandemic it may be necessary to do so – any such limitation must be rational, reasonable and justifiable.
In our case, FOR SA argues that, in the absence of any science-based data to prove that religious gatherings (where all the health and social distancing protocols are complied with) pose a greater risk of transmission than similar gatherings in casinos, restaurants, health clubs etc, there is no rational basis for treating the religious sector differently to other sectors. We further argue that because FOR SA represents a significant number of people from the faith community whose views are not otherwise presented, Government ought to have consulted with us prior to amending the regulations to ban faith-based gatherings. We are also asking that religious workers should be recognised as essential workers in the regulations.
At the hearing on Tuesday 2nd February, the Judge recognised that although the ban on faith-based gatherings was lifted, there is a high likelihood that there will be similar issues in the future if/when another wave of the pandemic is experienced and further restrictions are imposed.
It is therefore critical that we establish a legal precedent regarding the reasoning and basis upon which Government can – in future – lawfully regulate religious gatherings. As a result, an Order of Court was made reflecting the agreement of all parties on how this matter will proceed. A written request has subsequently been sent to the Deputy Judge President of the Johannesburg High Court to set the matter down for hearing as soon as possible from May 17th, 2021.
CLICK HERE to see FOR SA’s press release in this regard.
Will you help to secure your religious freedom rights?
The reality is that litigation costs significant amounts of money. This is why it is typically a “last resort” when all other forms of appeal and negotiation have failed – as in this matter, where the course of dealings between Government and the religious community show a concerning and consistent pattern of treating it differently (i.e. unfairly) when compared to other, similar sectors.
We are therefore very thankful that FOR SA has been able to work together with an excellent and diverse team of Advocates and attorneys in developing and presenting this critically important case, which we trust will establish a precedent regarding the reasoning and basis upon which Government can lawfully regulate religious gatherings as this (or any future) pandemic unfolds. Without the help and high-level expertise of these men and women, who have already volunteered enormous amounts of time to this case, we would not have been in a position to file this case or to fight this battle.
Although all the Advocates and attorneys in the legal team are involved because of their personal conviction to protect and promote religious freedom, they will need to dedicate many more hours to this matter (at the expense of other, paying work) between now and May 2021. After less than three weeks since FOR SA engaged in this matter, if “normal fees” had to be charged, the cost would already be in the region of R1 million. This does not take into account the additional, substantial and unavoidable hard costs and disbursements in the form of photocopies, printing costs, telephone calls, petrol, etc.
In the circumstances, we are appealing to ask you if you will make a difference by contributing financially to help cover some of the costs of this case? The reality is that FOR SA (as a non-profit organisation that is entirely reliant on voluntary contributions for our continued existence), is not able to fund litigation out of our own pocket. Every donation that is given to FOR SA is 100% necessary to pay for our operational costs on a monthly basis, which enables us to fulfil our vital work of protecting religious freedom before Government, Parliament and (as in this instance) the Courts.
Should you wish to give to FOR SA for this purpose, please CLICK HERE or make a transfer to:
Account name: FOR SA
Account #: 4062114352
Branch code: 632005
We realise that many of you are already giving to FOR SA on a monthly basis, for which we are truly grateful – and would ask you to please continue giving, as we are reliant on your generosity for our daily operations. This appeal (to contribute to the court case specifically) is for those who are able to give over and above their commitment to FOR SA, or who want to specifically give towards this court case.
Should you wish to make a specific donation towards this case (as a contribution towards the time given by the legal team and to cover disbursements), please make this directly into our attorney’s trust account at:
Account name: Bliden Campbell Incorporated
Account #: 4069675230
Branch code: 630509
Ref: FOR SA v COGTA Minister
As always, thank you for your support, without which we would not be able to fulfil the mandate that we believe we have been given.
We trust that this e-mail has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Executive Director, FOR SA