In April we carried a report that the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD), headed by secularist Hans Pietersen, above, had launched a lawsuit against six schools, alleging that they were illegally foisting Christianity of pupils.
Well, today it’s reported here that the High Court in Johannesburg has sided with OGOD, saying that schools can’t promote one religion over another.
Judge Willem van der Linde said:
Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that: (a) Those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities; (b) They are conducted on an equitable basis; and (c) Attendance at them is free and voluntary.
He was quoting from Section 15 of the Constitution which deals with freedom of religion, belief and opinion.
OGOD wanted the court to declare unconstitutional the religious education policies of six schools: Randhart Primary School in Alberton, Baanbreker Primary School in Boksburg, Garsfontein Primary School in Pretoria, Linden High School in Johannesburg, Oudtshoorn High School and Langenhoven Gymnasium in Oudtshoorn.
The six schools, the Ministers of Basic Education and Justice, and the National Society for School Governing Bodies were respondents.
The court found that it was against the Education Act to:
Promote one faith or one religion primarily at the expense of others or allow school staff to do it.
When Pietersen mounted the legal challenge, the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas) said he was an atheist who mocks religion, and wants the majority to be denied the right to be exposed to religion in schools. Fedsas said many pupils at state schools come from broken homes and that:
Religious coping is the only effective form of coping available to them.
Pietersen regards the promotion of Christianity at school as a “hangover” from the Christian national education of the apartheid government. He said:
We don’t want people to stop talking about religion. We should never keep knowledge away from children, and that includes knowledge about all religions.
Pupils need to experience and observe their classmates’ religions because one day they will work with people from different religions, but they cannot do this if only one religion is promoted or taught.
The journey to the court has not been easy for Pietersen.
I have been called the anti-Christ, Satan. People wanted to boycott my business. If you stand up for equal rights, people will try to hound you.
According to this report, Cause for Justice, a religious freedom organisation warned that if Pietersen case proved successful:
Religious rights could be swept away.
Pietersen became a secularist campaigner against religious schools when he realised that his own children were being exposed to Christian beliefs at the school they attended. In 2014 he found pro bono lawyers to help him with his legal challenge.