Call for prayer as Parliament considers Hate Speech Bill which threatens religious freedom

Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery who briefed Parliament yesterday on the revised Hate Speech Bill (PHOTO: Darrenn Stewart, Gallo Images/news

Christian legal watchdogs have issued a warning that the revised Hate Speech Bill which will be considered by a parliamentary committee tomorrow poses a serious threat to religious freedom.

Michael Swain of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) and Philip Rosenthal of ChristianView Network both warn that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has ignored requests by faith communities for amendments to the bill to ensure that people cannot be jailed for simply expressing their faith.

Their comments followed a DOJ briefing to Parliament yesterday on their responses to more than 100 000 written public submissions on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill (the Hate Speech Bill). The DOJ also presented a new version of the Bill which continues to define hate speech widely and criminalises it, with a three-year jail sentence for a first offence and a five-year jail sentence for a second offence. 

In a video message [see below] Rosenthal calls on Christians to pray ahead of the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice tomorrow [Friday September 9] morning at which they will consider whether to approve the bill which was presented to them by the DOJ yesterday.

He says: “I’d like to encourage you to pray into that.This bill is very dangerous because we know that similar laws have been used in other countries to prosecute Christians and also in this country, people who have expressed politically-incorrect viewpoints, and especially things that are controversial, on matters like sexuality and gender, tend to get accused of hate speech.

“And that is really dangerous because they can be fined. But this bill is much more dangerous because not only can they be fined but they can be sent to jail and not only can an outside party be suing somebody but the government itself can prosecute them for saying something which they might have just been expressing a viewpoint or an opinion which is not actually hate speech at all. And we’ve seen how the courts have been unjust on this in the past and that’s why we need to very clearly define what hate speech is and what it is not.”

FOR SA executive director Swain says in a press release that it seems the government is determined to “press forward with this chilling piece of legislation”. He says they have ignored amendments proposed by a broad section of religious organisations and members of faith communities to strengthen the religious exemption clause to ensure that both individuals’ and organisations’ public or private expressions of faith are not criminalised.

He says the bill criminalises speech that can cause any emotional, psychological, physical, social, cultural or economic harm that severely undermines the human dignity of the individual or group that the speech is targeted against; and promotes or propagates hatred against them.

“The fact that the bill has been changed to require both elements to be present simultaneously is an improvement, but it remains deeply flawed. The first part is an over-broad definition of harm which goes much wider than what the Constitutional Court held harm to be defined as in relation to the civil offence of hate speech last year. The second part is problematic because the Bill fails to define what promotes or propagates hatred means,” says Swain.

He says: “This vague and overbroad definition of hate speech is deeply problematic, but it is made worse by the bill listing 23 criminally actionable grounds, some of which are highly controversial such as sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and sex characteristics, all of which are also undefined in the bill.

“The effect of the bill is that it would be more difficult to be found to guilty of the civil offence of hate speech under the Equality Act/PEPUDA, and ordered to apologise, than to be found guilty of the crime of hate speech and sent to jail for three years.

“This is especially concerning given that the bill also criminalises the distribution and display of ‘hate speech’, while only providing narrow grounds for exemption that do not seem to provide strong enough protection for artists, academics, journalists or religious people.

“The concern is that this bill in its current form can potentially be weaponised to target, arrest, prosecute and even imprison people of faith, simply for professing traditional views that are no longer politically correct. This has been the case in several European nations where similar hate speech legislation is in force.”

In his video message, ChristianView Network director Rosenthal says it seems that in revising the bill, the govenment has listened to some Christian arguments but not to all of their concerns.

“We need to then still try to argue this case now. First prize is we scrap this bill altogether because we don’t need it — there are other laws which cover real hate speech and can protect people. And we need to try and stop something like this from becoming law.

“But if we can’t stop it from becoming law we need to have a very strong protection of religious exemptions. And we can be encouraged that these exemptions have been strengthened but we need them be to be strengthened more clearly.

“One of the things which was encouraging is the deputy minister of justice this morning [at yesterday’s DOJ briefing] said that it was not his intention to restrict this just to the protection of what is said in churches in religious meetings. But we need that to be put explicitly into the text of the bill so that somebody can’t come and prosecute Christians later, in years in the future. We’ve seen twice before — on abortion and on same-sexmarriage — similar promises have been broken. And so, we just can’t take these things for granted; we need to argue for them.

“So, pleasepray forthe parliamentary committee which is going to be considering these things on Friday morning the 9th of September.”

In its press release FOR SA warns that the legislative process is moving forward rapidly. Should the parliamentary committee pass the bill tomorrow, it will move on to the National Council of Provinces.

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  1. Our world has adopted the Humanist worldview, and is consistent in condemning any views that conflict with popular trending thought. Christianity is always contrary to “the world’s world-view” 1 John 2:15. In New Testament times, Christians were persecuted for opposing “the world’s world-view”. In 2 Timothy 3:12 God promises that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Why aren’t we Christians being persecuted today as in N.T. times? Perhaps it is because we are not living godly lives in our ungodly world.

  2. My specific prayer is that the “twisted” powers that be will not find away to apply this strategy against the South African Christians who are standing for Israel in these days.