By Andrew Selley, Founder & CEO of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
This week in national media, news broke of legal proceedings instituted in the Johannesburg High Court against six public schools (two in the Cape, and four in Gauteng), all of who hold to a Christian ethos and Christian values.
The Court is effectively being asked to order that Christianity be removed and banned from the schools.
The case, which is a watershed case for religious freedom in South Africa, will in all probability end up in the Constitutional Court.
Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (OGOD) is an organisation working to eradicate Christianity from schools. In this particular case the schools that OGOD has targeted, are Laerskool Randhart (Alberton), Laerskool Baanbreker (Boksburg), Laerskool Garsfontein (Pretoria), Hoërskool Linden (Johannesburg), Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Langenhoven Gimnasium (both in Oudtshoorn).
In terms of the admission policy of all of the above schools, learners of all religions and belief systems (including Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian and atheist) are welcome to enrol at those schools. Should learners (or their parents) of their own free will choose to enrol at those schools however, they do so with the knowledge and understanding (and by implication, agreement) that the schools hold to a Christian ethos and Christian values, as determined by the school governing bodies of those schools..
At all times, participation in any Christian practices or activities (including attendance of sermons, prayer, VSCV activities, evangelism opportunities, etc) are completely free and voluntary. No learner is ever forced to participate in such practices against his/her will.
In its court papers, OGOD alleges that the schools in question are breaching a number of constitutional rights, including the right (of non-Christians) not to be discriminated against on the basis of conscience, religion and/or belief. OGOD is asking the Court to grant an order effectively removing and banning any form of Christianity from the schools.
The schools, who have been given a number of days to reply to OGOD’s court papers, are meeting with the Federation of School Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) today (Friday, September 5) to consider their position and approach to the case.
The potential ramifications
This case could potentially have severe ramifications for religious freedom and ultimately for the spreading of the Gospel, in South Africa.
Should OGOD be successful, the effect will be that teachers and learners will be silenced from speaking or testifying about God in a school context. They will not be allowed to read the Bible or pray (either individually, or together with other Christians) at school. Creationism, as a biblical teaching, will be banned from schools.Learners will not be allowed to participate in VCSV or other Christian activities at school. And doors will be shut to pastors and Christian ministries working into schools. In a nutshell, our schools will become sterile environments to the seed of the Gospel – this, when statistics have shown, that between 80 – 85% of people make a commitment to Jesus Christ before the age of 18!
Although the outcome of the case could potentially affect the religious freedom of other faiths as well, it is blatantly obvious that this case is a direct attack on Christianity. Why else would only “Christian schools” have been cited as parties to the case? There can also be no doubt that the aim is to remove one belief system (Christianity) and replace it with another (atheism). This is evident from the court order that OGOD is asking, namely a prohibition on any form of Christianity in the schools.
A Christian response
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has been warning for some time that the freedom of Christians in South Africa to believe, preach and live their lives according to the Word of God, is under threat.
In the last few months, we have told the stories of pastors, Christian ministries and Christian business people who have been victimised by activist lobbying groups driving a secular / humanist agenda, and who have had to defend their freedom of conscience, religion and belief before the Human Rights Commission, Gender Equality Commission and Courts. This time, the attack is on our most precious and most vulnerable – our children and our youth, the future of our nation.
As an organisation that works to protect and promote religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church in South Africa, FOR SA has already been in touch with FEDSAS and a number of the headmasters involved, to offer our support and assistance in defending the case. In addition to FOR SA, a few political parties and other organisations (including Afriforum who is reported to have made a significant contribution towards the legal costs involved in defending the case) have also already given the schools their show of support. The African Christian Democratic Party says it will oppose attempts to stop Christian values from being taught in schools “as our Constitution promotes the freedom of religion and not freedom from religion”.
As Christians, we cannot afford to sit idly by as our freedom to believe, teach and live our lives according to the Word of God, is being eroded one by one. We have to take a united stand – for the sake of religious freedom and for the sake of keeping the Gospel “free” in our country (and in this instance, in our schools)!
Against this background, FOR SA urges pastors and Christian leaders to give us their signed support, so that we can speak as a loud and united voice on issues affecting our religious freedom. On a previous issue relating to religious freedom, FOR SA was able to rally the signed support of leaders representing 12 million people in South Africa.
Since the beginning of the year, pastors and leaders representing many millions of Christians have rallied behind FOR SA as an organisation. As a result, we have been able to “push back” on a number of issues that, if left unchallenged, could have dealt a serious blow to religious freedom and the autonomy of the Church. (To join FOR SA and/or sign up for our newsletter (both at no cost), visit our website at www.forsa.org.za).
In addition, FOR SA would appreciate any financial contributions towards our work to keep our faith “free” in South Africa. While a large number of people have offered their time and skill to FOR SA as volunteers, having finances at our disposal will enable to us to do so much more and to rally even more churches around the principle of religious freedom irrespective of our doctrinal differences.
Finally, we encourage all Christians to pray! James 5 v 16 tells us that “[t]he earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” Let’s keep bringing these matters before our Lord, and trust Him to grant us wisdom and grace and lead us in victory – for the sake of our country and ultimately, for His glory!