Freedom of Religion SA has issued an urgent call to church groups to challenge “completely untrue and grossly misleading” claims by the CRL Rights Commission that over 45 million Christians support its recommendations for the compulsory licensing of religion.
In its official annual report which it presented to parliament last week (see excerpt below) the CRL states that church support for its recommendations includes the South African Council of Churches (SACC) with a reach of about 20 million people, the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA) with a reach of around seven million people, and other church groups representing more than 18 million more people.
“This [the CRL claims of church support] is at best a gross exaggeration and at worst deliberately misleading and dishonest, which is doubly concerning since, as a Chapter 9 Institution, the CRL should be above reproach,” said Michael Swain executive director of FOR SA.
“Nevertheless, since the CRL’s annual report has already been tabled and presented to parliament, the statement their annual report contains is the official position of these structures unless/until they make a further statement to clarify their position.
“Given that there are further hearings into the CRL’s “Commercialisation of Religion” report before the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee next week on Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th October, it is clearly important that they provide such a clarification before these hearings take place or at the hearings themselves,” said Swain.
He pointed out that key stakeholders and religious leaders were on record as making strong statements against CRL recommendations. These included:
- Bishop Zipho Siwa – presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) and president of the SACC – said in a media release that “in whatever ‘self-regulatory’ terms this is couched, these regulatory bodies will be state-appointed, state-funded and state-controlled. As a result, the proposed legislation effectively amounts to state regulation of religion.”
- Stephen Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town and president of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said that “ a recommendation that new laws be introduced to enforce registration of pastors and ministers is overkill and a response that one would expect more from a totalitarian state than a constitutional democracy”.
- The Anglican Church of Southern Africa states in its submission that if legislation along the lines suggested by the commission is proceeded with, the church “will petition the president not to sign the legislation as passed by Parliament AND a Constitutional Court objection would be a matter of penultimate resort, with the last resort must be defiance of an unjust law.”
- The submission of TEASA lists seven major concerns with the CRL’s submission and reminds the CRL its “mandate as defined in the constitution is to promote and protect the religious rights of communities. Not to take them away! The proposal to give to itself the power to license religious practitioners trespasses into the space of freedom of religion”.
- The SACC also point out in their statement that there needs to be a LOT more consultation across the religious community, especially as the CRL’s proposal will affect the whole religious community of South Africa and fundamentally alter the existing relationship between the state and this community. They specifically state that “NO legislation or enactment of the CRL’s proposal should even be considered before such broad-based consultation has taken place”.
In an alert published yesterday FOR SA says it has just learned that the COGTA committee hearings have been set for 9.30am to 1pm on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. It urges churches which have made written submissions to the COGTA parliamentary portfolio committee and/or requested an opportunity to make verbal presentations, to immediately confirm to the committee that they want to be heard at next week’s hearings. Churches which have not yet made submissions are urged to do so urgently — and to request an opportunity to address the COGTA committee next week.
“In light of the very serious nature of this matter, we further recommend that a very senior person represents your organisation at these hearings. We also recommend on the first day of the presentation to the COGTA Committee that you prepare a Press Release with a summary of your position on this matter,” says the alert to churches.
The alert, which can be read here, includes contact details for making submissions to COGTA and advice on how to make a submission.