Recent claims made to parliament by the CRL Rights Commission that it has wide support in the faith community for its proposals for the compulsory licensing of religious practitioners and organisations were contradicted by major church groups who participated in public hearings in parliament this week.
While a handful of small churches and organisations spoke in favour of the CRL’s licensing proposals, the overwhelming majority of presentations to the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio by major churches and organisations were firmly opposed thereto and called upon COGTA to reject the recommendations contained in the CRL’s Final Report on the Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems,
While there was a unanimous and complete condemnation of those who commit criminal acts or who perpetrate any harm in the name of religion or under the guise of religious freedom, it was made clear that State regulation and the compulsory licensing of religious practitioners and places of worship by the CRL as an institution of state were not seen as an acceptable, workable or even necessary solutions, said Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) in a press release today.
The COGTA hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday followed the CRL’s presentation of its final report to the parliamentary committee on June 27, at which time it claimed its regulation recommendations enjoyed wide support in the faith community. At the time FOR SA told COGTA that the CRL’s claim was not correct and asked the committee to allow further input from the religious community before taking any decision on whether (or not) to forward the CRL’s report to the National Assembly.
The meetings at parliament this week were well attended by a strong representation of the Christian community in particular, with presentations being made by, among others, The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA), the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), the Assemblies of God (AoG), the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, as well as several major structures representing mainly African “independent” churches such as the All Africa Federation of Churches (AAFC) and the Christian Ministers Council of South Africa (CMCSA).
Submissions were also made on important developments in the training and educational sector by the Association of Christian Religious Practitioners (ACRP) and high level legal advice and input was given by the SA Council for Religious Rights and Freedoms (CRRF) who oversee the SA Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms, and the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) who warned that the CRL’s recommendations were being viewed with concern by international human rights agencies such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Representations were also made by some royal households and African traditional health practitioners.
The CRL, in their final presentation, failed to meaningfully address any of the substantive legal and practical concerns raised by many over the two days, and as a result missed a golden opportunity to show willingness to engage meaningfully with the broader faith community.
Instead, the CRL chose to focus much of their presentation on attacking FOR SA and made the bizarre claim that most of the presentations made against their report seemed to have been taken from posts on FOR SA’s Facebook page. A further embarrassment for the CRL came in the form of a challenge by a COGTA committee member, who presented documentation which proved that the CRL had openly misled parliament by saying, in the recent presentation of their annual report to parliament, that they had secured support for their recommendations from certain major church organisations when they clearly knew that this was untrue.
In summarising the meetings, the COGTA chair said that the committee would have further discussions before deciding whether to accept or reject the CRL’s Report.
It is impossible at this stage to say how long their decision will take. It was also noted by some of the COGTA committee members that more discussion with other religious groupings was needed, and it is therefore possible that more meetings could take place.
National consultative conference
As an interim measure, it is possible that GOGTA may find in favour of convening a national consultative conference of all religions. This was a suggestion which was proposed by FOR SA in its opening address, and was supported and endorsed by the majority of the presentations. Such a conference would aim to foster greater mutual accountability to principles for sound corporate governance and ethical practices among ministers of religion and to examine the viability of establishing an ecumenical body (or bodies) that could provide appropriate mechanisms to support greater corporate governance and ethical practices in the religious community.
FOR SA said in its press release that it remains committed to the process of addressing the serious issues identified in the CRL’s report and developing solutions BY the religious community, FOR the religious community on a voluntary, mutually accountable and truly self-regulatory basis.
ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley said the ACDP shared with many, the serious concerns regarding exploitation and abuse of vulnerable communities and individuals, done in the name of religion. However it believed registration of religious organisations should not be used for purposes of state licensing but should not be rejected as a means of record keeping for purposes of information, education and a greater degree of awareness and accountability to the public.
ACDP president and MP Rev Kenneth Meshoe said the party supported FOR SA’s call for a national consultative conference of religious leaders to work out solutions to problems facing the Church.