FOR SA’s defence of religious freedom in 2020

by Daniela Ellerbeck
2 December 2020

By Michael Swain, FOR SA Executive Director

 

Freedom of religion is vulnerable and needs protection or it will be steadily eroded

As we near the close of a truly tumultuous year, it has never been more apparent how vulnerable religious freedom can be.  Whoever would have believed in January 2020 that every church, synagogue, mosque etc would be forced to shut down three months later – and only be allowed to re-open in a limited way six months thereafter?  From multiple quarters, there is a global trend to erode and limit our religious freedom rights – and these attacks are relentless. 

FOR SA exists to defend these religious freedom rights for all South Africans, because we recognise that our freedom to teach, preach and live out our faith in our own lives and in the lives of our families, is limited whenever (and to the extent which) religious rights are eroded. We engage in this endeavour vigorously and consistently – and in dependence on the support of those we have the privilege to represent.

We dare to say that had FOR SA not existed and been able to play the role we have, the legal framework governing our freedoms of conscience, religion and belief in South Africa might well look very different today.

FOR SA will stay in the forefront of the battles for religious freedom

Over the past seven years, FOR SA has defended and promoted religious freedoms before Government, Parliament, the Chapter 9 institutions and the Courts on multiple issues.  In the process, we have developed high-level expertise in religious freedom law so that we can help, lobby and advise those who may be in the crosshairs of religious freedom cases or seeking to understand their rights.  We do this because we are under no illusions about the global trend to restrict and erode religious freedoms.  We have successfully profiled these key issues by nurturing a positive reputation with the media, appearing regularly on TV and radio to inform and present legal positions supporting religious freedom

FOR SA understands that every loss of our religious freedom makes it more difficult for people to share and to live out their faith.  That is why we provide information and the opportunity for many to engage in the democratic processes of our nation’s lawmaking.  We regularly meet with members of the National Assembly (NA) and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) from all parties to present legal perspectives where we see religious freedom rights under threat. We also work with other international advocacy groups who defend religious freedom, to build relationships and ensure we have access to “best thinking” in our South African context.

2020 has demonstrated the vital importance of an informed, unified response

This year, FOR SA once again stood in the gap against efforts by the CRL Rights Commission to revive their initiative for a peer review system to usher in what effectively amounts to State regulation of religion.  After two days of hearings in Parliament before the new COGTA Portfolio Committee, it was again made clear that this proposition is unconstitutional, unnecessary and unworkable – and has basically zero support from the religious community.  This year also, FOR SA pushed through with our campaign to reinforce parental rights and to prevent the imposition of liberal value-laden Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in public schools. As a result, the Minister of Basic Education has conceded that the Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) will not be compulsory for teachers to use and that schools are free to teach sexuality education from alternative sources.   

Another major step forward resulted from FOR SA’s engagement with many key leaders of the major faith groups of South Africa (whose support is essential to our effectiveness) during the various levels of Lockdown. We were able to engage various Government structures to present an important legal viewpoint on behalf of many who would otherwise be “voiceless”.  The consequence is that FOR SA is now recognised and included by national and provincial Government as representing an important constituency.  We are thankful that we were able to assist in having religious workers recognised as “essential services” and for the majority of churches and other religious organisations to be able to re-open.  That said, we will continue to engage with and lobby Government until all the current lockdown restriction are fully removed and all religious freedom rights restored.

Your support in 2021 (and beyond!) is a critical success factor

As we enter 2021, we are still facing significant challenges in the form of the ever-expanding definitions of hate speech, with the Hate Speech Bill currently before Parliament which will (if passed into law) impose a prison sentence of up to  3 years for a first offence and up to 10 years for a second or subsequent offence.  We are also engaged with Government on the Victim Support Services Bill, which includes provisions which would potentially amount to a form of State regulation of religion.  We are involved in the Beloftebos wedding venue case, which has the potential to both limit and punish people for living out their faith or to force them to compromise their sincerely held conscience and beliefs. We are also likely to become involved in the so-called “isiphandla case”, which has the potential to remove the right for any association to impose any limitation which may be considered exclusionist.  This would, for example, effectively remove the purpose and raison d’être of all faith-based independent schools.

That said, although we remain confident and hopeful that we can at the very least resist and slow this down, we cannot do so without the active support of those for whom we take this stand.  We recognise that FOR SA simply cannot continue to be effective without the financial support of those we do our best to serve, namely religious organisations and persons of faith, from across the religious spectrum.  As a result, we are asking and appealing to those who we serve in this vital field of combat, to give towards the work of FOR SA so that we can operate on a sustainable basis.  This can take the form of either:

  • A monthly contribution for a fixed term of 6 – 12 months (ideal as it assists us to budget);
    OR
  • A “once off” donation.

Our bank account details are as follows:
Account name:            FOR SA
Bank:                           ABSA
Account #:                   4062114352
Branch code:               632005

Note:   Since February, 2020, FOR SA can issue section 18A receipts, which entitle tax-paying donors (individuals and “for-profit” organisations) to claim tax deductions.

Thank you for your continued support – and we look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that our priceless freedoms and preserved for us and for the future generations!

 

 

Michael was raised in England, graduating from the University of Bristol with an honours degree in Law before immigrating to South Africa in 1983. He has been a successful businessman as well as having spent over 30 years in ministry in South Africa, Europe and the USA. He serves as the Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA).



Support FOR SA

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. You can help FOR SA protect our freedom by:

Share This