Press Release: Controversy Around Religious Sermon at Public School

by Daniela Ellerbeck
23 July 2019


23 July 2019

For immediate distribution


A local pastor sparked outrage after allegedly making certain denigrating remarks regarding LGBT people during a sermon at De Kuilen High School in Kuils River.  According to the (unidentified) source, evangelist Pickard Henn allegedly told learners that “gay people were akin to murderers and paedophiles and that young people who had sex before marriage were prostitutes”, and that gay people were ‘as bad as Hitler’, babies are all born sinners and that sangomas were ‘of the devil’. In an interview with Cape Talk, Henn denied making any remarks regarding LGBT people and said he had permission to preach “the full Gospel”.

This incident raises the question whether public schools may invite religious speakers into schools, and also what the religious speaker may and may not say. At what point, do you cross the line of free speech (including religious speech) and when does it become “hate speech”?

In answer to the first question, Michael Swain (Executive Director of FOR SA) comments that “Section 15(2) of the Constitution allows ‘religious observances’ (including therefore religious sermons) at State or State-aided institutions (including therefore public schools), subject to three conditions. The conditions are that the ‘religious observances’  must take place in terms of rules made by the appropriate public authorities (in the case of schools, the School Governing Body); they must take place on an equitable basis; and attendance must be free and voluntary. This right was also recently confirmed by the Johannesburg High Court in the case of OGOD v Laerskool Randhart & Others (2017).  Swain further stated that “While public schools may not promote a particular religion, the law is clear that religious sermons are allowed at schools. That said, although religious speakers who are invited into schools have a right to express their religious convictions and beliefs, it is important that they do so in a manner that extends dignity and respect to all.”

On the line between free speech and hate speech, Swain comments that “the constitutional right to free speech is a very broad right that includes opinions and ideas that people do not like, do not agree with, or even find offensive. In recent cases, the Supreme Court of Appeal again stated that ‘the fact that a particular expression may be hurtful of people’s feelings, or wounding, distasteful, politically inflammatory or downright offensive, does not exclude it from [Constitutional] protection’“. He comments further that “However, in terms of section 16(2)(c) of the Constitution, where speech amounts to the advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to cause harm, such speech will not be protected.”


For more information, contact:
Michael Swain
Executive Director, FOR SA
Email: [email protected]
Cell: 072 270 1217