28 February 2022
For immediate distribution
CHETTY CASE A VICTORY FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The case against Simeon Bradley Chetty, a young evangelist who was taken to Court by the South African Hindu Dharma Sabha (SAHDS), was settled by mutual agreement between the parties at the Chatsworth Equality Court on Thursday 24th February. The SAHDS wanted the Court to sanction Chetty for sharing his testimony of how he came to believe in Jesus Christ, at an open-air prayer meeting. However, at the urging of the Magistrate, the parties reached an amicable settlement. Contrary to what has been reported in news articles, the Court did not hear the case, neither did the Magistrate make any findings (including that Chetty was guilty of hate speech).
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) appeared as a friend of the Court, specifically to bring attention to the Constitutional Court’s ruling in the Qwelane case in July 2021. Their judgment in that case made it clear that simply because speech is hurtful does not make it hateful or harmful. True hate speech, which is prohibited in our law, must amount to the advocacy of hatred that leads to an incitement to cause harm. On this test, Chetty’s statements – although perhaps offensive or even hurtful to some members of the Hindu community – evidently do NOT amount to hate speech and would therefore be regarded as protected speech. It is therefore disingenuous and contrary to the spirit of the agreement between the parties for the SAHDS to suggest anything else, as recently reported in the media.
On the contrary, the agreement between the parties was a good outcome – not only for Chetty, but for people of all faiths. It confirmed, in terms of the Constitution and the recent Qwelane judgment, that people have the right to share their religious beliefs freely and without fear of sanction, even if others do not like it, do not agree with it, or find it offensive. Religious tolerance is a two-way street. If we expect others to be tolerant of our (sometimes contrary, or even offensive) views, we ourselves have to be equally tolerant of their views. The agreement in the Chetty case was therefore a victory for freedom of speech and confirmed the intention and spirit of the Constitution, whereby all South Africans are able to live alongside each other in a diverse and pluralistic society.
In terms of the agreement reached between the parties, Chetty made it clear that no malice or offence was intended by his testimony and prayers and, in particular, that he did not intend to cause anyone hurt or harm. Nonetheless, he agreed to repeat the apology he had made two years ago to anyone who may subjectively have been offended by what he said. The parties acknowledged that the Constitutional protects the fundamental right for everyone to profess and to practice their religious convictions and beliefs as they choose. Clearly, this would include respecting the rights and dignity of people who hold to different convictions and beliefs and not to make statements that would amount to hate speech.
However, the settlement specifically did not include any community service hours, nor payment of any damages, as initially asked for by the SAHDS. Although the settlement agreement that was made an Order of Court, this does not set any legal precedent and is nothing more than an agreement between the parties to bring the matter to finality, without the necessity of the Court hearing and deciding the matter.
For more information, contact:
Executive Director, FOR SA
Email: [email protected]
Cell: 072 270 1217