‘Please don’t sign the Hate Speech Bill, Mr President’

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has launched a campaign calling on South Africans to write to President Cyril Ramaphosa, urging him not to sign the controversial Hate Speech Bill into law.

Parliament passed the bill on Tuesday and it is now on the president’s desk. If he signs it, it will become a law which will directly impact citizens’ right to religious freedom.

FOR SA says it is important to write to the president now, as the Constitution (section 79(1) allows him to send the bill back to Parliament if he has concerns about whether it is constitutional or not! You can send your letter to the president via DearSA by clicking here.

“The bill violates our constitutional rights as religious persons to express our religious beliefs without fear of punishment or persecution (section 15, read with section 16). Increasingly, around the world but also in South Africa, various holy scriptures (particularly on contentious issues) are regarded as ‘politically incorrect’ or ‘offensive’, allegedly causing emotional and/or social harm,” says Michael Swain executive director of FOR SA.

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He says: “The bill makes “hate speech” a criminal offence – but defines ‘hate speech’ wider than the Constitutional Court. Parliament has failed to define the quintessential element of ‘hate’ in the Bill (so people know when they are committing hate speech as opposed to merely offensive speech).

“This means the Bill will make any speech (as well as the distribution of such speech) that could be construed to be ‘harmful’ (which includes emotional harm (i.e. hurt feelings), on a wide range of grounds, a criminal act carrying up to a 5-year jail sentence.

“This will potentially have dire repercussions on freedom of (religious) expression. Especially, because Parliament has failed to strengthen the ‘religious exemption clause’ in the bill. This means there will be very little practical protection for religious people who share their faith on the bill’s wide range of grounds publicly.”

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