July 1st 2021 | Daniela Ellerbeck | FOR SA

There has been unprecedented opposition from South Africa’s faith community to the highly controversial PEPUDA Amendment Bill. The Department of Justice had told Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) that they would consider all comments received until 30 June 2021. By the end of 30 June, the combined FOR SA and DearSA platform had logged nearly 90,000 submissions. Another organisation which represents many members of the traditional African spirituality faith reported sending in over 63,000 submissions to oppose the Bill. Many thousands of submissions have also been sent in from members of the Islamic faith, who see this Bill as a drastic overreach and interference by the State into the heart of the sacred tenets of their faith.

“While we fully support Government’s efforts to promote equality and to prevent unfair discrimination, our legal analysis of this Bill makes it clear that it will have devastating and negative consequences for all people of faith”, said Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA. “We are convinced that this will be the death knell of religious freedom, if passed in its current form.”

A major concern for the faith community is that the Bill overturns any form of religious autonomy. Government Ministers must pass regulations and/or codes of practice dictating to organisations what measures to implement to eliminate discrimination and promote equality, as redefined by the Bill. This will effectively amount to direct State regulation of religion and end the institutional autonomy of religious organisations (as well as faith-based independent schools) to determine their own doctrine, and internal workings, free from interference by the State – rights are specifically protected and guaranteed by the South African Constitution.

Given the extensive legal protection already provided by PEPUDA – as well as other labour law legislation and the common law protections such as crimen injuria – FOR SA cannot understand the need for haste to push through a law which will fundamentally rewrite South Africa’s entire legal system and drastically infringe upon other rights, including the right to religious freedom”, said Swain. “Our sincere expectation is that the Department will listen to the clear message they have received and acknowledge that what they have proposed has been soundly rejected by the vast majority of the submissions they have received.”