Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) welcomes last night’s announcement by the President and the subsequent amendments to the Adjusted Level 3 regulations, which now permit gatherings “at faith-based institutions” of up to 50 people (indoors) and 100 people (outdoors). This does not mean that religious institutions “must” gather – only that, for those who wish to do so safely and responsibly now have the limited freedom to do so once again.
“We are very pleased that Government has listened to the appeals from many quarters of the faith-based community, albeit on the proverbial steps of Court,” said Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA.
FOR SA had previously filed papers in the Johannesburg High Court to ask, amongst other things, that Government’s complete and indefinite ban on faith-based gatherings be lifted with immediate effect. The application, which was supported by churches and religious organisations representing 11 million+ people, was set down for hearing in Court today – along with similar applications by the South African National Christian Forum, Afriforum and the Muslim Lawyers Association.
In light of last night’s announcement and the amended regulations, the parties agreed that there was no longer an urgent need for the Court to hear arguments on why the ban should be lifted. However, some crucial issues remain to be decided, including the “in-principle” issue regarding the constitutionality of Government’s decisions and their decision-making process regarding faith-based gatherings. The parties subsequently came to an agreement regarding the further conduct of the matter, which was made an Order of Court.
In terms of the Court order, Government must deliver any records of decisions that they want to provide, by February 15th. Thereafter, FOR SA and the other applicants will have opportunity to supplement their papers, whereafter Government will have opportunity to do the same. The parties will also request the Deputy Judge President that the matter be set down for hearing as soon as possible from May 17th.
“Although faith-based gatherings have again been permitted, it is very possible that we will face one or more waves of the pandemic”, says FOR SA Executive Director Michael Swain. “It is therefore critical that we establish a precedent regarding the reasoning and basis upon which Government can lawfully regulate religious gatherings as the pandemic unfolds.”
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is a legal advocacy group mandated to protect and promote the constitutional rights of all South Africans, regardless of their specific religious or ideological beliefs. FOR SA is therefore ideologically neutral and non-partisan in terms of any interpretation of doctrine, faith or belief to the extent that it complies with the rule of law.