Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has welcomed the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that from June 1, religious leaders will be recognised as essential religious frontline workers for purposes of spiritual counselling and that churches and other places of worship may resume services limited to a maximum of 50 people and subject to strict health and sanitisation protocols.
The president’s endorsement of the importance of the role of the religious community is significant, and will enable this vital sector of society to be further empowered to help meet the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of our nation in this time of crisis, says FOR SA in a media release. It notes that the relaxation of restrictions is also in line with the earlier decision by government to re-open the vast majority of the economy in a calibrated way.
“We are thus grateful to the president and the NCCC for hearing and taking into account the pleas and proposals of FOR SA, the SACC and many others who made representations to government on behalf of the religious community. FOR SA itself sent several letters on behalf of +/- 18 million people, asking government to recognise the unique contribution of religious leaders and the organisations as ‘essential workers’, and for the phased opening up of places of worship.
“In our letters, we also pointed out that many religious organisations have an essential administrative component completely separate from any form of religious gathering. These administrative offices/functions need to be able to operate, to continue providing the social relief services (in the form of food distribution and the like) that many religious organisations are actively engaged in during this time,” says FOR SA.
“Following the President’s address, we now eagerly await the publication of the updated regulations to reflect the commitments and conditions raised in his address. These will likely give more detailed guidance and specification on what will be required and allowed. Clearly, the health and safety of people is a paramount consideration and must be respected at all times. Those who are considering the re-opening of public gatherings in line with these restrictions from 1 June, should proceed cautiously and responsibly,” says the media release.
It says: “In this regard, it is important to note that although the president has said that places of worship can re-open, it does not mean that they must do so. Some may see gathering together as an essential tenet of their faith; others may not. Every denomination or organisation must decide for themselves, subject to being able to comply with the specified protocols. Equally, members of each faith community must decide for themselves whether or not to attend, based upon their personal health risk assessment and taking into account the possible knock-on effect on the most vulnerable members of our society.
“The original challenge arose because of Government’s failure to mention, or cater for, the religious sector at any of the Levels 5 to 1. While the easing of the current restrictions on the religious community is thus welcomed, FOR SA calls upon Government to continue the consultations and engagement with the religious sector regarding the progressive easing of the restrictions across the different Levels 5 to 1, until ‘normality’ is restored for the religious sector as for every other sector.”