FOR SA and the outstanding legal team that we have been working with have made a close examination of the Regulations and Directions promulgated by Government inasmuch as they affect the religious community in their “Places of Worship”. This FAQ document details some of the frequently asked questions in this regard, and FOR SA’s interpretation of the applicable Regulations and Directions. Please note that the document is intended to serve as a Guideline only, and FOR SA cannot be held legally liable for reliance thereon. It remains the responsibility of every church or religious organisation to familiarise themselves with the Regulations and Directions that apply from time to time, and to obtain legal advice particular to them.
By all means freely distribute the FAQ document we have produced to your constituents.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE ‘ADJUSTED LEVEL 4’ REGULATIONS
(PROMULGATED ON 27 JUNE 2021)
read with THE ’AMENDED ADJUSTED LEVEL 4’ REGULATIONS
(PROMULGATED ON 11 JULY 2021)
FOR FAITH-BASED GATHERINGS
(12 July 2021)
By Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
(in consultation with a broader team of advocates and attorneys)
*Disclaimer – FOR SA accepts no liability for any reliance placed on this document. Readers always bear the responsibility of reading the latest regulations and directions for themselves to verify that the information reflected in this document is still applicable.
On the evening of 27 June 2021, the President announced that, in light of the significant rise in COVID-19 active cases, the entire country would be moving to ‘Adjusted Level 4’. That same evening, the Adjusted Level 4 Regulations were promulgated, once again prohibiting faith-based gatherings. On 11 July 2021, following a further address by the President, the following Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations were promulgated (which were, largely, an extension of the ‘Adjusted Level 4 Regulations’ for a further two weeks). Importantly, the Adjusted and Amended Adjusted Regulations need to be read together, as the Amended Adjusted Regulations did not replace all of the previous Adjusted Regulations.
The purpose of this document is to assist churches and other religious organisations in their understanding and implementation of these Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations issued in respect of faith-based gatherings.
Q: Can we have church / religious services?
A: No. In terms of Regulation 21(1) of the Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations prohibits all gatherings except funerals, workplace and buying goods and services. Regulations 21(2) explicitly prohibits faith-based gatherings until 25 July 2021, after which the Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations will be reviewed.
Q: Can church buildings remain open?
A: No. Regulation 24(1) of the Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations states that all places where religious activities normally take place is closed. This would include, therefore, church buildings insofar as they are not also workplaces – i.e. the church office may remain open as a place of work.
Q: Can we have church / religious services elsewhere, e.g. at a conference centre, a school hall, etc?
A: No. The Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations specifically impose a blanket prohibition all faith-based gatherings, irrespective of venue – i.e. they do not prohibit these gatherings only at faith-based institutions.
Furthermore, Regulation 21(9) of the Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations also imposes a blanket prohibition on conference centres and Regulation 18(1)(a) closes schools for contact classes until 26 July 2021.
Q: Can we live-stream meetings?
A: Yes, provided that the live-stream or pre-recording takes place as a workplace gathering (and not a faith-based gathering). Workplace gatherings are permitted in terms of Regulation 21(1)(b) Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations.
Given the criminal consequences that may follow any alleged contravention of the Regulations, it may be safest (from a legal point of view) to pre-record sermons at the church office during normal office hours.
Q: Can we have small group meetings in homes?
A: No. The Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations prohibit all kinds of gatherings (including social and faith-based gatherings). The only gatherings that are allowed to take place are funerals, workplace and buying goods and services.
Q: What can happen if we meet anyway?
A: Regulation 21(18) of the Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations states that where an illegal gathering takes place (i.e. any gatherings other than funerals, workplace and buying goods and services), an enforcement officer must order the people to disperse immediately. If they refuse, the officer may arrest and detain them.
Furthermore, Regulations 21(19) and 21(20) explicitly state that anyone who convenes a faith-based or religious gathering, or anyone who attends such a gathering when they reasonably ought to have known it is prohibited, commits an offence. If convicted, they are liable to a fine and/or six (6) months in jail.
Finally, Regulation 14(9) of the Adjusted Level 4 Regulations states that if you incite, instigate, command, or procure any other person to commit any offence in terms of the Regulations, you will be committing an offence. If you are then convicted, you can be sentenced to a fine and/or six (6) months in jail.
Q: How many people may attend a funeral?
A: Regulation 20(1) of the Adjusted Level 4 Regulations, limit funerals to 50 persons maximum. Or, if the venue is too small to accommodate 50 people with 1.5 metres social distancing between each person, the number is limited to 50% of the venue’s capacity. Strict adherence to all health and social distancing (at least 1.5 metres between persons) protocols are required. Everyone must wear a mask during the funeral. Night vigils and after-funeral and cremation gatherings, including “after-tears” gatherings, are still not allowed.
Q: Is there a time limit on funerals?
A: Yes. Regulation 20(5) of the Adjusted Level 4 Regulations limits a funeral or cremation gathering to 2 hours maximum.
Q: What does this mean for weddings?
A: Because faith-based gatherings are prohibited in terms of Regulation 21(2) of the Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations, it is not possible to have a religious wedding ceremony (whether at church or elsewhere) at this time.
Because the same Amended Adjusted Level 4 Regulations also prohibit social gatherings, no wedding celebration or reception is allowed – whether at a wedding venue, or at someone’s house. (We note, however, that restaurants are allowed to operate at this Level, subject to a maximum of 50 people and if the space is not big enough to accommodate that amount of people with 1.5 meters social distancing, then no more than 50% of the capacity of the venue).
The above prohibitions do not mean, however, that a couple wanting to get married during this time, cannot do so legally. In this regard, they have two options:
- To complete the legal paperwork in front a religious marriage officer at the church office (or if there is no church office, at the religious marriage officer’s house if that is his/her normal place of work) during normal working hours. For this purpose, only the couple and two required witnesses should be present, and no guests; OR
- To book an appointment, and get married at, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
According to clause 17H.1(h) of these Directions promulgated by the Department, the solemnisation and registration of marriages form part of the services they will continue to offer under Adjusted Level 4.
12 July 2021