18/05/2017 04:01 SAST | Updated 18/05/2017 13:06 SAST

OGOD Does Not Seek To Ban Religion From Schools

If religious observance is to be carried out in schools, it must come from the community. If the school does it, it is violating the Constitution.

From 14 May 2017 to 17 May 2017, the High Court in Johannesburg heard a case brought by Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie or Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) against six schools (Laerskool Randhart, Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Hoërskool Linden, Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Oudtshoorn Gimnasium) for what it said was the suppression of scientific teachings of evolution, and a religious ethos that was a form of religious coercion and an abuse of learners' rights. The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools opposed the OGOD bid, supported by, amongst others, AfriForum. In this blog post, the OGOD director lays out his organisation's position. You can also read the post by the Fedsas CEO here. - blogs editor.

It has never been the intention of the Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (OGOD) to ban religious observances from schools, and we specifically wrote that in the papers submitted to the court. I don't know why the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) is pushing this agenda, whether it is to make us look bad, or they just haven't read the documents, I don't know. We have asked for equitable treatment for all religions in school, and for the ending of the religious apartheid that is currently in place at these schools. We want more religions in schools. We have never sought to ban religions.

Accusing us of trying to spread atheism is a convenient way to muscle up the support for the opposing side. It is simply untrue – nowhere in our documentation have we even mentioned atheism. This is about equitable treatment for all the religions of South Africa. A lot of people associate atheism with anything bad, such as Satanism, the eating of babies and who knows what else. So by connecting this case to atheism, they conveniently work up the emotions of people who don't understand what is actually happening. It is a very disingenuous way of trying to muster support for themselves.

It has been claimed in court that even the parents and children from minority religions appreciate the Christian ethos, but this is a BS claim. The mandate of AfriForum says that the organisation represents and protects the interests of minorities, and that they seek equal treatment for them. But they argue in the case for majority rule. They simply contradict themselves there.

We are all for good moral values. We never asked for religions to be removed from schools. If parents believe that good morals are connected to religion, then so be it. Fedsas itself launched a programme a couple of years ago to help schools instil a value-based system. They name five values like integrity and hard work. None of those are religious in nature.

Any religion (as well as humanism, which is not a religion) endorses human values. In our case specifically, our Constitution endorses all these values. You don't need a specific religion to be able to convey those values to children.

We are not against the provisions of the National Policy on Religion and Education, in fact that is precisely the values we are arguing to preserve. We need society to be more involved in schooling. The idea behind the policy was that the teachers would teach the curriculum, and then the social institutions surrounding those schools, including churches and mosques, could apply to become a part of the education effort. They can then observe religious rites in those schools, but it is important to note that these would come from the religious institutions in the community, who would be supportive of the children in the school. The school itself would not be involved in arranging those activities, as per the Constitution.

Religious observances may be held at the school, but not by the school. That is of critical importance. We want children to be exposed and involved in whatever religious activities their communities observe, and we want religious organisations to be involved in schools, but that must happen outside the formal school activities. It cannot be initiated or run by the school itself. If the school does this, they are using state funds to promote a specific religion, and that is against the Constitution.