Following the South African Human Rights Commission’s finding against them on Friday, 22 January, Joshua Generation Church in Cape Town has said that they have no choice but to appeal the SAHRC’s findings and recommendations which they regard as an “unconstitutional censorship of religious belief in South Africa”.
According to the Church, they cannot comply with the SAHRC’s request for a written undertaking that they will stop believing and teaching certain Scriptures from the Bible. Such undertaking would violate the religious freedom of those who believe, according to their interpretation of the Scriptures, that it is their parental duty to provide appropriate guidance to their children (including, at times, where needed, and always in love, to spank within the bounds of the law) for their education and benefit.
JoshGen as a church does not however actively “promote” spanking (as the SAHRC has incorrectly found). The church believes that people must be free to interpret the sacred texts for themselves, and to decide for themselves what they believe to be best for their children. It is their constitutional right.
A news report this week has maliciously branded JoshGen as a “sect”. Far from a sect, this well-established Church in Cape Town is supported in its position by religious leaders representing an overwhelming 12 million people in South Africa (including The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA) who in itself represents 4 million Christians in South Africa, the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Muslim Judicial Council).
Member of Parliament Cheryllyn Dudley has also come out in support of JoshGen and taken issue with the SAHRC’s Report which she believes to violate parental rights and the constitutional right to religious freedom. According to the ACDP MP, “Parliament, the representatives of the people, considered this issue thoroughly over many years and concluded that it would not serve the desired purpose for reasonable chastisement to be abolished.” She explained that criminalising spanking as the SAHRC proposed, will turn a majority of loving parents into criminals, divert attention and already constrained budgets away from addressing the very real problem of abuse and violence against children in South Africa. “In SA we have laws to deal with abuse and violence which must be implemented – any extra strain on the scarce resources, both skills and finances is unthinkable”.
Christian families already at risk
Should the SAHRC’s proposal to criminalise spanking (in all instances, even when non-injurious) be adopted by Parliament, it is very possible that potentially responsible parents who love their children and only want what is best for them, will end up in jail as is already happening in countries like Sweden where the ban on spanking has resulted in hundreds of innocent parents being arrested and prosecuted. Worse even, children will be removed from the family home and placed in foster care, with no guarantee of being reconciled to their parents.
Those who say that this will never happen, may be surprised to learn that this is already happening on their doorstep. In Pietermaritzburg recently, children were removed from Christian homeschooling parents who were accused of “indoctrinating” their children with their religious belief. The children were only reconciled with their parents months later after a battle for their children’s return in court. If this is already happening on charges of “religious indoctrination”, one can only imagine the consequences for potentially innocent parents accused of assaulting their own children!
The Constitutional Court has already found that although our Constitution does not expressly protect the right to family life, international treaties which SA has ratified, obliges the State to protect the family as the natural unit of society. In terms of these treaties, the State (including therefore the SAHRC) has a duty to respect the right and responsibility of parents to determine how they will raise their children.
SAHRC used to drive an anti-religion agenda
The Constitution tasks the SAHRC with the protection and promotion of human rights in South Africa. This includes not just children’s rights, but all constitutional rights including the freedom to believe, and to freely speak what one believes (or not believes). People may not be forced to choose between obeying their faith or obeying the law, with consequences should they choose to rather obey their faith. The SAHRC’s job is to protect faith, not criminalise it.
It is unfortunate that the SAHRC is allowing itself to be used as a “vehicle” to drive an anti-religion agenda in South Africa. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the complainants in the case against JoshGen, self-identify as atheist / secular humanist activists, who have openly stated on social media that they “know our numbers are limited, but we do have the laws that are on our side, that is what we can use, and the human rights as our vehicle to drive our rights forward to block their [referring, in the context of the post, to JoshGen and other evangelical churches] backward ways”. It appears that the same complainants also helped to initiate the case of OGOD v Laerskool Randhart & others, which is aimed at removing Christianity from public schools and will be heard later this year.
The complainants, and it appears also the SAHRC, obviously hold to a very different worldview and beliefs contrary to that of the Bible and the Christian church in South Africa including JoshGen. It is their constitutional right to do so, and also to say so. Equally however, it is the right of the church and believers in general to believe, preach and teach, and live their lives according to the sacred texts. It is unfortunate that the same acceptance and tolerance often is not extended to them.
Andrew Selley, Senior Pastor of JoshGen, commented that “the complainants are not members of the Church and has, to the best of our knowledge, never visited JoshGen. Neither has the SAHRC. If they were to, they would see that as Christians, we really love and value children as precious gifts from the Lord. We take our responsibility to protect, nurture and care for children very seriously, knowing that we will have to give an account to God for this. While we are sorry that we have been targeted, we do not hold this against the complainants and hope that they can see that our heart is genuinely for the children.”
Standing together for freedom
FOR SA encourages parents and people across different faiths to stand with JoshGen, for the sake of protecting family and religious freedom in South Africa. This is a matter of great concern not only for them as a church, but for us all. Our freedom to believe (including to believe differently from each other) is at stake. South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
The Church has already expended a great deal of time, effort and money on litigation in this matter which is likely to end up in court. Stand together for freedom, our freedom as citizens of South Africa, by making a financial contribution to the legal and other costs associated with this matter. FOR SA’s bank account details are:
Account name: FOR SA
Account nr: 4062114352
Branch code: 632005
Issued by Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) (forsa.org.za), acting as the appointed spokesperson of Joshua Generation Church with regard to this matter.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
FOR SA Media Relations Manager
Ph: 021 – 551 0658 or Cell: 082 568 5117
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Date of Issue: 28 January 2016.