FOR SA asks CRL to intervene in draft health regulations as Church balks at ‘vaccine mandate’

Pastors marching in central Cape Town on February 5 last year to protest against restrictions on church gatherings

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has requested the Cultural, Religious and Linguistics (CRL) Rights Commission to assist the religious community by intervening in its conflict with the government over controversial draft health regulations which the state wants to introduce in place of the state of disaster which was terminated at midnight on Monday.

In an email to CRL Commission CEO Edward Mafadza, Michael Swain executive director of FOR SA says that Pastor Ray McCauley sums up the sentiment of the religious sector when he states in a recent newspaper article that churches will not subject themselves to a vaccine mandate specified in the health regulations.

The draft regulations, which religious leaders say pose a major threat to religious freedoms, include a requirement that congregants must provide proof of vaccination to enter religious gatherings of over 1 000 people indoors or 2 000 outdoors. The public has until Friday April 15 to comment on the proposed regulations and last week the Department of Health’s email server crashed as thousands of people responded to a call to submit their comments.

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In an article published in the Sunday Times last Sunday, McCauley who is president of the Rhema Family of Churches and chair of the National Religious Leaders Council says he supports the government’s campaign to promote Covid vaccinations but accuses it of choosing a path of confrontation with the religious sector by imposing a vaccine mandate without meaningful consultation with the sector.

He writes: “The International Federation of Christian Churches (IFCC) has released a statement saying: ‘The South African Council of Churches (SACC) had made it very clear that they are not going to implement the condition because it is simply impossible and impractical to try to implement, let alone the fact that it takes away the basic right of freedom of religion.’

“The IFCC, whose leadership I am part of, fiercely rejects the vaccine mandate.”

In his email to the CRL CEO, Swain refers to McCauley’s article, which he says “sums up the sentiment that is broadly held by the religious sector”.

He also states in the email that there is significant friction between religious communities and the state over the draft health regulations and interim regulations issued by the Cogta minister under the Disaster Management Act — which FOR SA believe to be ultra vires.

In a media statement released yesterday, FOR SA says that religious communities were already upset by the pattern of unfair discrimination which they have experienced during lockdown. Religious workers and organisations are still not recognised as “essential workers”, despite being in the frontlines of the pandemic., it says.

The statement notes that FOR SA and other parties filed a legal action for unfair discrimination when religious gatherings were shut down completely while casinos, fitness clubs etc. were allowed to operate.  Large scale political events and rallies continued without any police interference, but helicopters, rubber bullets and batons were used to break up prayer meetings.

“There is evidently no further need for Government to continue with any form of lockdown, let alone to expand and extend these powers indefinitely through Regulations issued under the National Health Act.” says Swain. “Many in the religious community are deeply concerned that the draft health regulations will simply continue the rule by an unaccountable executive under the guise of ‘saving lives’ from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

FOR SA says that the draft health regulations grossly and unjustifiably violate religious freedom rights. In addition to the vaccine mandate requirement for larger gatherings, the regulations allow for the possibility of compelled “treatment”, which is undefined and could include compulsory vaccination.  Provision is also made for compulsory quarantine in a state facility. All these infringements on constitutional rights are activated whenever the minister defines any disease, no matter how mild, as a “notifiable medical condition” (“NMC”).  Failure to comply with the regulations is a crime, punishable with up to 10 years in prison and/or a limitless fine, says FOR SA.

“The regulations put both religious people and religious organisations in the invidious position of having to decide between obeying God or man,” says Swain, “However the Constitutional Court has clearly stated that the ‘state should, wherever reasonably possible, seek to avoid putting believers to extremely painful and intensely burdensome choices of either being true to their faith or else respectful of the law’.  It is for this reason that we are asking the CRL to intervene in this matter and to assist the religious communities,” says Swain.

The CRL is empowered by the CRL Act (specifically sections 5(1)(g) and 5(1)(h)) to intervene in such matters because the Act gives the CRL the power to facilitate the resolution of friction between religious communities and the state where religious rights are affected. Hence FOR SA’s request for intervention by the CRL as the draft health regulations directly infringe upon the rights of religious people and communities, says FOR SA.

Gateway News has asked the CRL Commission for comment on its response to the intervention request from FOR SA.

Meanwhile the past week has seen unprecedented action by Christian leaders mobilising their networks to exercise their right to oppose the draft health regulations by exercising their right to make a public submission. An easy way to make your submission is by using the Dear South Africa platform:

The ACDP is hosting a public march to the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday April 18 to defend the right of churches to meet without number restrictions or the need to provide a vaccine certificate or Covid test result. A memorandum will be handed to the minister of justice.

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One Comment

  1. Im happy to see some Church’s standing up to these mandates. It is about time.