Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) informed President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday that they have asked the Johannesburg High Court to hear their pending application challenging the complete ban on religious gatherings as a matter of urgency.
In a letter addressed to the president and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkozana Dlamini-Zuma, they say the government’s actions left them with no choice but to reopen their court application which has been pending since January 2021. These actions include repeatedly failing to include them in the president’s consultations with religious stakeholders despite the fact that they represent about 18 million people across the religious spectrum.
FOR SA’s letter accuses the president of snubbing them before he announced Adjusted Level 4 Regulations on June 27 and on July 11, despite their participation in previous consultations. They say they were also excluded from a consultation with religious leaders on Tuesday regarding calls for calm amidst the violence and looting — despite the fact that they specifically asked to be included.
“Had we been given the opportunity to consult with you, Mr President, we would have been able to alert you to the growing frustration across the faith community, with regard to the continued restrictions on religious gatherings – including the recent complete ban on religious gatherings, coupled with the criminalisation of any person who dares convene or attend such a gathering, effective since 28 June 2021,” says the letter signed by Advocate Nadene Badenhorst legal consultant for FOR SA.
The letter says that as a result of the growing frustration, faith leaders in different provinces have called for peaceful protest and threatened civil disobedience if the government does not open churches to at least 50% of their capacity subject to observing Covid protocols.
The latest regulations, which extended the ban on religious gathering for a further two weeks while allowing restaurants, gyms and fitness centres to open up to a maximum of 50 people have added to the frustration, says the letter.
“Many view this as irrational and unfair – particularly in light thereof that people take off their masks to eat at a restaurant, and restaurants operate seven days a week twelve hours a day. In contrast, most religious gatherings services are normally held on a weekly basis only, and congregants are expected to keep their masks on for the duration of the service. For this reason, religious gatherings constitute considerably less risk than going to a restaurant (or a gym for that matter). All the while, airplanes, buses and taxis continue to operate at 100%,” writes FOR SA.
The letter points out that in the last few days government has called on religious leaders to condemn the spate of anarchy in parts of the country but says many leaders are asking how they can comply since they are not able to meet with their people, many of whom don’t have the resources to meet online.
“In fact, various of them [religious leaders] have voiced the sentiment that we should not be surprised at the chaos and anarchy that ensue when a Government turns its back on God, inter alia, by closing churches while commercial enterprises are allowed to continue,” says the letter.
It continues: “Right now, our people need voices of calm and reason, we need unity and prayer. Yet, our churches and other religious institutions who have typically been at the forefront of uniting our people in prayer and calling for the restoration of peace and order in our communities, are closed at a time when this is most needed.”
The letter concludes by saying FOR SA wants to work with the government to find solutions to health and political challenges ravaging the nation, and urges the president to reconsider the ongoing closure of churches.
You can read the full letter here.