Court case against religion in schools affects 24 000 schools - Solidarity

Movement says application asking religious practices be banned at schools flies in the face of the religious practices of 95% of South Africans

Court case against religion in schools affects 24 000 schools and flies in the face of the religious practices of 95% of South Africans

16 May 2017

Trade union Solidarity today argued that the ruling in the Gauteng South High Court case would not only affect the six schools involved in the case but 24 000 other schools in the country as well. As such, the case is of major importance to hundreds of thousands of parents and children across South Africa. The application asking that religious practices be banned at schools runs counter to the conviction of 95% of South Africans who identify themselves with a religion.

According to Solidarity, religion and values are the very elements that bring South Africans together across traditional divisions. According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, 86% of South Africans identify themselves as Christians, while almost 95% identify with this faith. Only 5,2% regard themselves as non-religious or are not sure which religion they associate with. The World Value Survey and the Pew Global Morality Study have also found that social values unite South Africans. The World Value Survey also found that 83,9% of South Africans regard faith as important; 96,7% believe in God; and that 1,9% would identify themselves as atheists. According to Solidarity, the application is thus essentially an undemocratic attempt to enforce the applicants’ own, very narrow-minded interests on school communities.

“What the applicants are trying to achieve is to destroy the moral glue that glues South Africans together. The question is whether that which the applicants are seeking is in line with what ordinary South Africans want. Looking at the statistics, this is clearly not the case,” Solidarity Chief Executive Dr Dirk Hermann said.

Solidarity today argued as friend of the court in favour of the six schools whose religious practices are being challenged in court by the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD). According to Solidarity, it is constitutionally permissible and desirable that school communities decide on a school’s ethos and practices through their democratically elected governing bodies.

“There is no such thing as neutral education. In practice, the atheists who brought the matter before court want to enforce their belief on school communities. Even a secular approach constitutes a certain worldview that is to be enforced on school communities. Under the guise of inclusion their arguments the will of communities is being excluded.

The current system, in terms of which parents decide by way of governing bodies on the religious practices of their schools, but making provision for those who wish not to participate in such activities to do so is the correct approach, for in this way, the rights of the school community and those of the individual are being accommodated. Schools must also have firm guidelines in place to accommodate those who disagree with the school’s ethos and practices, affording them the necessary respect and ensuring that participation in religious activity is voluntary at all times. Governing bodies must therefore ensure that their policy on religious practices is fair.

If the application succeeds standard practices such as prayers at assembly, prayers at sports events, Christmas Carol performances by choirs, as well as a specific faith ethos would be banned. In thousands of schools those are the very values that unite children. In the long run, the absence of those values, practices and a certain ethos would have radical consequences for the culture at schools, and later also for South Africa,” Hermann said.

Hermann stated that in this case Solidarity was acting on behalf of teachers. “Thousands of teachers are driven by their vocation, believing that children should not only be neutral individuals but that they should receive their education within the framework of a certain value system. It is for this very reason that they teach at schools where they can live their calling,” Hermann explained.

Issued by Dirk Hermann, Chief Executive, Solidarity, 16 May 2017