Dates set for High Court to hear challenges to religious lockdown regulations

By Adv Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA Legal Counsel– originally published in JOY! Magazine

The Johannesburg High Court will hear the case instituted by Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) against the government on November 22 – 24. This case challenges the restrictions on religious gatherings in terms of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations. Similar court cases have been instituted by the SA National Christian Forum, Solidariteit Helpende Hand, and the Muslim Lawyers Association. All of these will be heard simultaneously with FOR SA’s case.

Unfair discrimination against religious gatherings
In particular, FOR SA will ask the Court to find that it is unlawful and unconstitutional to prohibit religious gatherings while allowing other gatherings at, for example, casinos, cinemas, and restaurants to continue (as happened in December 2020/January 2021). We will argue that there is no evidence that religious gatherings – where people comply with the Covid-19 protocols (including wearing masks, social distancing, etc.) – pose any greater risk than other gatherings at, for example, restaurants where people take off their masks to eat and drink. As such, the greater restrictions on religious gatherings amount to unfair discrimination.

This case is incredibly important
This is a very important case, particularly in light of the further anticipated waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. It will set a precedent regarding the reasons for which, and the extent to which, government can interfere with the constitutional rights of religious communities. This includes their right to meet together physically with other believers to practice their faith (subject of course to all Covid-19 protocols).

Churches should be able to decide
While some churches believe (as is their right) that it is best not to meet in person at this time and to run their services online only, other churches believe that the Scriptures command them not to forsake the gathering of the saints (Heb 10:25). For them, virtual church cannot, and does not, replace the physical gathering together with other believers to worship, pray, and mutually encourage and serve one another in love. Interestingly, both the Scottish High Court and the US Supreme Court – where similar court challenges have been brought – have agreed. Both courts found that online broadcasts were “an alternative to worship, rather than worship itself”.

FOR SA is fighting for your rights!
In several countries internationally, courts have struck down Covid-19 regulations that unfairly discriminate against religious gatherings. For example, the US Supreme Court had a big problem when the State of Nevada allowed crowds of people at cinemas and casinos, but not at churches. The court said: “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favour Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel”. The same is true of our Constitution – hence FOR SA’s defence of our vital religious freedom rights.

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