Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has issued legal proceedings out of the Johannesburg High Court, to protect the organisation from defamatory statements made by the CRL Rights Commission (CRL) to the public and the media with the clear intention of undermining and discrediting the organisation.
In their application, FOR SA is asking the court to order a retraction of the defamatory statements, and also for an interdict prohibiting the CRL from making any further defamatory statements regarding the organisation.
“We were regrettably obliged to take legal action after the CRL has followed through with the threat made in November last year to ‘rubbish FOR SA in a matter of minutes”, said Michael Swain executive director of FOR SA.
At a meeting at the CRL’s office to discuss the CRL’s Preliminary Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the CRL Chairperson, stated: “We could get the media here and tell them what we want to tell them about FOR SA, and say you like what is happening out there…. FOR SA would not survive an onslaught from a Chapter 9 institution. Never, because we could amass enough media coverage that would turn this whole thing around.”
“We wrote to the CRL following this meeting to express our concern at the hostile approach they were taking towards those who disagreed with their proposals to license every religious practitioner and place of worship, which we see as a clear over-reach of their powers” said Adv Nadene Badenhorst legal counsel of FOR SA.
She continued: “However, we made it clear from the beginning — in our submissions to the CRL and in numerous emails and media releases — that we agree 100% that the abuses that the CRL has identified are unacceptable, and that freedom of religion can never be used as a justification for illegal activities.
“Nevertheless, the CRL carried through with their threat, with the CRL chairperson stating in a recent appearance on the panel interview on SABC’s Rights and Recourse programme: ‘What FOR SA is saying is not right — that you must have a right to preach even if you are killing people — it’s fine…. They can’t hold onto their freedom until people die … if this thing continues, we’ll have mass suicides in this country…’
“The CRL has also issued a media release, in which it falsely stated that FOR SA has ‘not lifted their fingers nor raised their voices against the abuse of people or followers through some dehumanizing practices… it is clear that they effectively defend and protect the abuse of the people’s belief systems and the demeaning of the religious community.’
“This statement was made despite the fact that FOR SA had previously motivated and petitioned numerous Christian denominations and other faith groups to condemn the so-called ‘Prophet of Doom’, which was sent to the CRL on 22 November 2016. The Limpopo Department of Health subsequently obtained a court interdict against the ‘Prophet’ to stop him from administering any harmful substance to any of his congregants or members of the public.”
Following the CRL’s defamatory statements regarding FOR SA, the organisation served a lawyer’s letter on the CRL demanding their retraction of the defamatory statements and warning the CRL that, should they fail to do so, FOR SA would have no alternative but to institute legal proceedings – as the organisation has now done.
The papers served on the CRL allege that, apart from the defamatory nature of the statements made, they carry the additional sting that FOR SA and its leadership are deceitful, do not respect or abide the laws of the country and are without moral fibre. This has resulted in FOR SA and its leaders suffering both significant reputational, and (potentially) financial damage.
FOR SA strongly denounces the CRL’s damaging and defamatory statements as completely untrue and without substance or merit.
“It is very regrettable that in a democracy where we encourage public participation, that the CRL has deliberately launched a smear campaign, simply because it does not agree with our position, said Swain.
“It is difficult to understand why a Chapter 9 Institution would resort to ‘dirty tricks’ when it should be facilitating open debate to find optimum solutions to the problems it is seeking to resolve”.