Human Rights Commission spanking ruling misguided, says ACDP

Cheryllyn Dudley.
ACDP MP, Cheryllyn Dudley.
Church will appeal — to protect family and freedom of belief

“Constant attempts to equate abuse and violence with reasonable chastisement or a spanking, are misguided and frankly disingenuous,” says the African Christian Democratic Party in its reaction to a report on corporal punishment at home by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) following its investigation of a complaint against a Cape Town church.

The ACDP “takes issue” with the SAHRC finding that spanking in the home is a violation of children’s and other constitutional rights and that Joshua Generation Church (JGC), “a respected Christian church”, should give a written undertaking to stop “advocating” corporal punishment in the home, remove references to physical chastisement from training material, and send its pastors for “sensitization training”, says ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley, in a statement released today.

The SAHRC released its report on Friday (January 22, 2016), nearly three years after a complaint was laid against the church’s teaching on child correction by Adriaan and Hannah Mostert in March 2013. Sonke Gender Justice and Carol Bower are also named as complainants in the SAHRC report.

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Advocate Nadene Badenhorst.

Advocate Nadene Badenhorst, legal counsel for Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) and spokesperson for the church, says the church has “no alternative but to appeal… for the sake of protecting the family and the freedom to believe in SA”. She says the church does not “promote” spanking, but believes that parents should be free to decide for themselves how to raise their children, according to their (the parents’) own moral and religious convictions. Neither the church nor the government may prescribe to parents how to raise their children.

In her statement today Dudley says: “The ACDP is of the opinion that freedom of religion and belief which is constitutionally protected, includes a person’s right to express their views and beliefs and to act in line with them provided they do not infringe on the rights of others. Church and State are recognized as separate for this very reason – neither the government, nor institutions of State, have an unrestricted right with regard to churches or individuals and should not presume to decide what people can and can’t believe and teach”.

“It is very likely that the view of the vast majority of South African parents is that moderate physical chastisement is effective in achieving beneficial discipline. Minority views like those of the SAHRC are also important and people who share this view, must also have the freedom to choose what is best for themselves and their family and what they believe.”

Turning loving parents into criminals
Dudley further says: “Constant attempts to equate abuse and violence with reasonable chastisement or a spanking, are misguided and frankly disingenuous. Abolishing the defense of reasonable chastisement and turning a majority of loving parents into criminals, divert attention and already constrained budgets away from addressing the very real problem of abuse and violence against children in South Africa. In SA we have laws to deal with abuse and violence which must be implemented — any extra strain on the scarce resources, both skills and finances is unthinkable”.

“Parliament, the representatives of the people, considered this issue thoroughly over many years and concluded that it would not serve the desired purpose for reasonable chastisement to be abolished. South Africa and indeed much of the world is suffering the consequences in violent and callous societies where children have not been disciplined or taught respect and consideration of others.

“The ACDP agrees with Adv Nadene Badenhorst, Counsel for Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), that for the SAHRC to dictate to parents how they should raise their children, or what can and can’t be taught in their church, violates a child’s right to loving discipline and a parent’s right to guide their family and to make decisions and choices in line with their beliefs.”

In other reaction, ChristianView Network Director Phillip Rosenthal comments on a manual on parenting by Joshua Generation Church that gave rise to the Mosterts’ complaint against the church’s doctrine. A number of news reports have highlighted references in the manual to the use of rods for child correction. Rosenthal says the manual covers a range of parenting topics over 43 pages and includes 4 pages on spanking, including relevant Bible verses and guidelines to avoid abuse.

Misunderstanding mandate
“The issue here is not about spanking children. The problem is that in this instance and numerous others, the so-called Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has been interfering with religious freedom based on a misunderstanding of their constitutional mandate. The Bill of Rights creates space for a broad spectrum of viewpoints and free association, while the current group of lawyers running the SAHRC would like to restrict that freedom only to views that agree with their very narrow interpretation of the Bill of Rights – and thus threaten the freedom of churches, journalists and political leaders,” he says.

He continues: “The SAHRC’s instruction for example for Joshua Generation Church to send their trainers and pastors involved in this course on a course to be re-educated with the opposite viewpoint (point 10.3), assumes we live in an authoritarian Stalinist type state. It is a violation of the right to freedom of belief and opinion and freedom of association. In fact, Joshua Generation Church has no right to force their trainers and pastors to attend such a course – it is their own choice if they wish to do so or not. Rather what is needed is for the SAHRC, is to be purged of lawyers who misunderstand the Constitution.”

Joshua Generation Church is supported in its position by religious (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) leaders representing 12 million people in South Africa, from whom the church had obtained signed support. In his letter of support to the Church, Reverend Moss Ntlha (on behalf of The Evangelical Allicance of South Africa (TEASA), representing approximately 4 million people in SA), stated that “as a central tenet to our belief is the concept of training up a child in the ways of God.” As such, Joshua Generation Church is not alone in its efforts to protect the religious freedom of those who believe, according to their interpretation of the Biblical scriptures, that it is their parental duty to give appropriate guidance to their children including at times to spank them, within the bounds of the law and always for their benefit and education. (Again however, it must be emphasised that the Church accepts that other believers hold to a different interpretation of the same Scriptures. As such, the Church cannot and does not dictate to parents how to raise their children – that is between them and God.)

Reacting to the SAHRC finding, original complainants Hannah and Adriaan Mostert say: “Imparting violence on defenceless children is not conducive to a healthy society as it leads to a vicious cycle of abuse‚ re-enacted from one generation to the next. We are very happy that the SAHRC affirmed that no segment of society‚ including religious organisations‚ is exempt from upholding our constitutional principles of human dignity‚ respect and equality”, reports Times Live

Sonke Gender Justice spokesperson Patrick Godana said the organisation was delighted by the Commission’s report and hoped the government would legalise the banning of caning, reports

A detailed response to the ruling by FOR SA can be found on their website at

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  1. I really don’t get the “religious freedom” argument put forward by JGC. What about the child’s constitutional right to religious freedom? Surely the forceful application of the parents’ religion infringes on the child’s right not to follow the same religion?

  2. This assumes there is a neutral position of ‘non-belief’, from which one can exercise one’s religious freedom and move to a position of religious belief. There is NO such neutral position – the state promotes its own religion: secular-humanism, along with its beliefs and assumptions. As with other constitutional rights, the child can exercise his/her right to religious freedom when they come of age. Until then, the state has no right to force its secular-humanist beliefs on the parents.