Concern that moves to stifle religious freedom at schools is tearing at fabric of society

[notice]A speech by African Christian Democratic Party MP and Whip, Cheryllyn Dudley last week in a Joint Sitting in the National Assembly during a debate to mark Heritage Day and Month. [/notice]

prayingatschool“I will not have time today to talk to the story of our youth – I would however like to quote one young man in the North West Province Kagiso Monyadiwa who says ‘National Heritage Day is a day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of this country.   What we have done well, was to realise that we are all South African — the challenge now is the economic imbalance amongst us which still divides us and must be dealt with!’

“Instead I will speak to the story of faith-based South Africans and Christians in particular who would like us to re-look at government’s policy on Religion in Schools. They say this with the conviction that we are tearing at the fabric of our society when we impose unrealistic guidelines that prevent learners, parents and communities from influencing the religious ethos of their local schools.  Freedom of religion is not about creating ‘one religion for all’ but allowing people the freedom to believe as they please and to share their belief respectfully and peacefully. Religion and culture are closely related and should not be stifled.

Freedom must not negatively impact on others
“Clearly this freedom like all others must not negatively impact on others but all learners and students should be able to proudly acknowledge their religious and cultural beliefs and express themselves in line with these in a manner that does not impose on others.

“Without outside interference, where the majority of learners at a school are of one faith — e.g. Christian, Muslim, Catholic etc., it follows that the ethos of that school will appear to be that of the religion of the majority and where the community is more evenly spread across religions the diversity will be more apparent in the ethos.

“There is general agreement that factual learning about all religions can be useful but many parents specifically want their children in a school that embraces and teaches their values and I know Christians feel very strongly about this. Madiba is reported to have said in 1999 that religion was one of the motivating factors in everything he did; ‘without the church,’ he said ‘without religious institutions, I would never have been here today’.

Platform for peace
“For a significant majority of people in South Africa who believe in Jesus and have chosen a Christian way of life it is important to obey Jesus’ command of ‘Let the children come to me’ and they passionately agree with the words of Eben Le Roux (‘A Silence that Kills) that, ‘as long as we deny the call of Jesus to bring the children to Him we will deny ourselves the most important platform for peace’.

“In essence he says: When our children grow up being taught they are their own god and are in need of no other help they suffer from arrogance – arrogant people are selfish, selfish people are disruptive and disruptive people behave like fools.

“Faith based parents instil their religious values in their children from the cradle.  Christians, for example, teach their children to love God, love others, forgive and care for others and to follow the ‘Ten Commandments’, so that as they grow up these become firmly held moral standards.

“Most of all a relationship with Jesus, is something that does not get switched on and off and no matter how many guidelines there are that say otherwise, Christians will not be free to be themselves if they cannot acknowledge their creator and saviour whether at school, work or home. We know religious extremism leads to shutting down freedom of religion but we have come a long way and we should be able to explore ways of ensuring freedom of religion without denying our children the freedom to live theirs in their daily lives. This will move South Africa forward.

” ‘The rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation, said Madiba, is our children. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people. Our children, he said, are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation’.”


  1. True Sista’, that’s the way to address issues from a loving point of view, even if some find it offensive.

  2. This works fine where the students and staff at a school are all of the same faith, however this is hardly ever the case unless the school is specifically a religious school. All public schools in South Africa are by the very nature of our society a salad of religious faiths and there the problems arise. When a Christian child comes home insisting that Mohamed is the last prophet and Jesus is not God incarnate, or a Muslim child comes home saying that Jesus died for his sins, or a Buddhist child comes home insisting that praying regularly to Mother Mary is very important to one’s spiritual destiny parents have to grapple with the enormous influence that teachers have over their children’s minds – I sometimes think religiously motivated teachers are unaware of the tensions that their well intentioned efforts generate. For this reason I believe it is very important for all schools to have a clear policy in place that guides teachers as to the boundaries of what aspects of their faith are dogma neutral and safe to share in the classroom. There is more than enough doctrine that is universal to all major faiths to instil good values in young learners without causing ructions.

  3. The key issue is the values that children learn, and many receive no moral training in the home, as is seen at dysfunctional schools populated by the products of dysfunctional homes.
    Most religions have similar values, whereas secular humanism espouses moral relativism, which is ultimately subjective and self-centred.
    A Christian ethos does not dictate to the children. In terms of the Schools Act, parents have the right to choose what ethos their children’s school has. The major religious group in SA is Christian oriented, and most parents are unable to afford private schools, and will therefore prefer a government school with a Christian ethos.
    In terms of the Religion in Education policy, children are taught about various religions. Any religious observance or programme is attended on a voluntary basis. There are also government schools which are predominantly Muslim or Hindu, and the same policy applies.