The CRL Rights Commission has granted a request by religious bodies for more time to respond to its controversial proposals on the regulation of religion.
The CRL’s report on the “commercia isation” of religion was published on October 26 and religious bodies were given until November 18 to comment. The deadline was yesterday extended to February 28 2017 following a request by Freedom of Religion ( FOR SA )on behalf of more than 50 churches, denominations and other faith groups, for an extension until June 1 2017.
The CRL’s proposals to recommend to parliament that religious bodies submit to regulation and licensing are widely seen by churches as a major threat to religious freedom and already some bodies such as the Baptist Union of SA and the All African Federation of Churches have publicly slammed the report — respectively calling for it to be withdrawn and rejected.
The FOR SA letter to the CRL Commission followed two meetings organised by FOR SA in Cape Town and Johannesburg last week, where over 200 religious leaders gathered to discuss the commission’s report.
The consensus of leaders at both meetings was that, given the magnitude of the regulations that are being proposed and the serious impact that these will have on each and every religious institution and practitioner in South Africa, the commission’s original timeframe of three weeks for comment was completely inadequate for the level of consultation that needs to take place within individual churches, denominations and the wider faith community.
“We are hoping that the commission will grant this extension in the interest of good faith towards the faith community of South Africa,” said Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA after the letter was sent.
“It is important to take into consideration the fact that many churches and denominations in particular will only have their annual general meetings in April next year,” he said.
The commission’s investigation into the “commercialisation” of religion and abuse of people’s belief systems, initiated towards the end of last year, followed a few isolated complaints of harmful or bizarre religious practices which also received high profile media coverage, says FOR SA in a press release.
The solution currently proposed by the Commission, is to “fast-track” legislation through Parliament that would impose a comprehensive regulatory framework on religion in South Africa. This would include mandatory registration and licensing of qualifying religious organisations as well as religious practitioners and places of worship, it says.