RELIGIOUS intolerance has generated more wars, misery and suffering than any other type of disorientation or bias. In the name of this or that deity, for the glory of a divine cause or in order to settle abstruse theological disputes, human blood has been shed for thousands of years.
Those were the astonishing concluding remarks of South African senior counsel, Ronel Tolmay, in a landmark case in the Pretoria High Court yesterday where a gay music teacher is claiming damages from the Dutch Reformed Church in Moreleta Park, Pretoria.
Tolmay said the right to freedom of religion could only be protected if tolerance of opposing opinions was shown.
She acknowledged that people honestly held certain opinions – like believing that it was a sin to be a practising homosexual – but she also cited a case in which a fundamentalist group some time ago wanted to stone an adulterous woman to death because she acted contrary to their religious beliefs.
Tolmay asked Judge Dion Basson not to make a moral judgment on the issue. Instead, she said, he should follow the law and the provisions of the constitution, which clearly indicated that Strydom was discriminated against.
This is what happens when honestly held opinions are allowed – and this is the reason why we have a constitution to protect people.
But senior counsel for the church, Johan Louw, argued that equality considerations should not be allowed to trump the core beliefs of spiritual leaders.
Louw said that the congregation had interpreted the Bible as saying that homosexuality was a sin. He said in light of its right to freedom of religion, it was thus irrelevant what others’ interpretation of the Bible may be
He said Strydom must have been aware that the church regarded homosexuality as a sin and expected a celibate life of all homosexuals in leadership positions, including the lecturers in the music academy.
One of the congregation’s ministers, Dominee Dirkie van der Spuy, said it was stated clearly in the Bible that homosexuality was wrong.
He said the congregation did not discriminate against Strydom merely on the grounds of his sexuality, but rather because he was “an active homosexual”.
Van der Spuy said if Strydom chose to live a celibate life, he would have remained in his job, adding that the congregation had a programme developed to assist homosexuals.
Judgment in the case has been reserved.
See full reports here and here.