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 Fedsas CEO lays out his organisation's position. You can also read the post by the OGOD director here. - blogs editor.
As the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), we are not saying that we want to protect Christian values as such. What we are saying is that we want to protect the rights of institutions like public schools and individuals to the freedom of religion, and freedom of opinion, as is guaranteed in Section 15 of the Constitution. We're saying that schools as juristic persons should have the freedom and right to choose the religion that is appropriate for their communities. Whether it is secularism, Hinduism, Judaism or Christianity, they should have the right to determine the directional choice for their school.
Therefore we are not protecting Christianity as such, but we're protecting the freedom of choice for communities.
The Constitution is very clear on the rights of minority religion students in majority-Christian schools. It says that you may not discriminate, inter alia, on grounds of religion or religious belief. That principle must also be protected in the process, and it must be advanced. Recognition must be given in any particular school to all the possible religious practices amongst the learners.
As far as religious observances are concerned, when you have a 90% Christian population in a particular school, and 10% Hindus for example, it is going to be impossible to keep them perfectly equal. Therefore the Constitution makes provision for equitable treatment, and provision must be made for them to be recognised and treated fairly. It makes provision for these differences to be celebrated in the sense of teaching children about the different religions, which is taught in the curriculum.
Every child must be taught that their differences must be respected. Instead of hiding those differences, they must be recognised so that we can all understand each other, and kids can grow up knowing that people are different, and this needs to be respected. That creates the unity in diversity, which is a foundational principle in our Constitution.
The Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (OGOD) argument says that all schools should be secular institutions. That would be an endorsement by the state of a particular worldview, or a particular directional choice for all schools. This is exactly what the previous apartheid government endorsed. It almost enforced a particular form of Christianity national education on all schools. We must avoid that. We must give the opportunity to the local community in accordance with international instruments to make choices with regards to what they believe is the best for the children in their particular school. Obviously this must happen without discriminating against those who do not subscribe to that particular ethos.
We have also made a provisional application with regards to the National Policy on Religion and Education. We are saying that the policy itself it is not prescriptive. Some people want to believe that it is, but it isn't. It should not take away the freedom and right of choice of schools, communities and individuals. But in the event that it is found to be prescriptive by the courts, then we say it is unconstitutional. It's a provisional application to have only a part of the religion in education policy declared unconstitutional to the extent that it takes away that freedom.