The parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) has postponed next week’s scheduled hearings on the CRL Commission’s controversial report recommending the regulation of religion, says Freedom of Religion SA (FOR SA) in a press release.
Blaming the delay on the need to consider more pressing legislation, COGTA has promised to set aside two days in the fourth term to deal with the matter — but faces a daunting logistic challenge due to an overwhelming response from the religious community which has submitted well over 200 submissions and requests to make oral presentations in opposition to the CRL’s recommendations, says FOR SA.
COGTA simply cannot accommodate the demand for hearings which would require at least 10 days to process, says Michael Swain executive director of FOR SA. The religious community backlash has probably caught COGTA by surprise as when the CRL presented its report to the parliamentary committee on June 27 it claimed its proposals enjoyed broad-based support.
However, at the same June 27 meeting, FOR SA informed COGTA that this was not the case and petitioned the committee to conduct further hearings to ensure that the religious community of South Africa had the opportunity to make its voice and opinion heard as a vital part of the process.
“It is clear from this [the many opposing submissions by members of the religious community] that the CRL’s recommendations are deeply flawed and they would be well advised to engage with the community they are supposed to represent instead of persisting in their efforts to push through an agenda that is seen by the vast majority as unconstitutional, unnecessary and unworkable,” says Swain.
He says COGTA now finds itself in a position where it does not have time to accommodate everyone who has asked for an oral hearing, but, if it fails to do so, it runs the risk of confirming the impression that the opinion of the religious community and their alternative solutions to issues identified by the CRL’s report are being marginalised and ignored.
“We have been concerned from the beginning of this matter that the process of engagement with stakeholders has been substantively flawed”, says FOR SA dvocate Nadene Badenhorst.
“Given that the CRL’s recommendations will fundamentally alter the historic relationship of the state and the religious community, it is bizarre that the CRL has failed to give proper consideration to the concerns and alternative solutions that were presented to them by numerous Christian denominations, organisation and other faith groups,” she says.