Christian schools don’t break the law
Katharine Child | 2017-05-16 17:42:53.0
All parties in case have agreed that any attendance of a Christian assembly must be voluntary. File photo
NGOs Afriforum and Cause for Justice have asked what law schools that hold Christian assemblies have broken.
The three judges sitting in the case at the Johannesburg High Court asked this same question on Tuesday.
Father of triplets‚ Hans Pietersen’s organisation OGOD‚ has asked the court to interdict public schools from advertising themselves as having a Christian ethos‚ from using a Christian logo or badge‚ reading the Bible at assembly and offering voluntary Christian meetings at break time.
But the NGO organisations say that OGOD has failed to show the schools broke a law. The state funded Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic Communities agreed and argued the high court had no jurisdiction on the matter.
Section 15 of the Constitution allows the public expression of religion in state institutions. These religious observances have to be voluntary and equitable.
Cause for Justice advocate Greta Engelbrecht argued that one cannot “socially engineer” a school if the school population comes from a heterogeneous population. She said even though religion has to be expressed equitably a governing body cannot enforce for example a quota that 50% of assemblies be Christian and the other half be Muslim‚ if the school is not half Muslim.
The school governing body has to make rules that reflect the school’s needs and demographics‚ she argued. This may mean more Christian assemblies for a majority Christian school‚ she said. She said this principle was at play in trade union Solidarity’s successful case challenging employment equity racial quotas in the police services.
The quota allowed for 10% of jobs to go to coloureds but failed to take into account that the Western Cape population is 50% coloured.
She said laws had to reflect societies they served.
All parties in case have agreed that any attendance of a Christian assembly must be voluntary.
Engelbrecht argued that voluntary Christian meeting should be allowed. She asked how a voluntary chess club violated the rights of pupils who didn’t play chess. She said such a club didn’t and that voluntary after-school or break meetings for Christians or Muslims did not violate other pupils’ rights.
The schools’ advocate‚ Johan Du Toit SC‚ told the court that school children at these Christian schools‚ as young as seven‚ were surveyed by a researcher and she found children liked having religion at school and felt empowered.
He argued that religious schools were better for children than “sterile” secular schools. He quoted a self-described expert in human behaviour‚ Dr Tanya Robinson‚ whose affidavit said that religion taught values and gave support to children brought up in single parent homes or in deprived circumstances.