Judgment has been reserved in the case of Jon Qwelane vs Minister of Justice & Others, heard by the Johannesburg High Court (Equality Court) in the first two weeks of March 2017.
The case concerns an article written by columnist Jon Qwelane in the Sunday Sun newspaper in 2008, under the heading “Call me names, but gay is not okay …”. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) who instituted the initial case against Qwelane, claims that (certain portions of) his article are “hurtful” or “harmful” to the LGBT community, and for this reason amount to “hate speech” in terms of the Equality Act, 2000.
The case is important in that it will determine the boundary between free speech (that may be offensive but not necessarily amount to “hate speech”), and “hate speech” in the legal sense of the word – particularly in the context of speech that expresses moral disapproval of same-sex relationships.
Although Qwelane does not specifically rely on the constitutional right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion (which includes the right to speak, whether verbally or in writing, what it is one believes), the outcome of his case may very well have an impact on the right of South Africans to freely and without fear of harassment or punishment, speak out their religious or moral convictions with regard to issues of human sexuality. (To read more, see https://forsa.org.za/free-to-say-gay-is-not-ok/)
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