On 28 September 2023, FOR SA made a written submission to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ (“the CRL Rights Commission” or “the Commission”) Survey on the Status and Experience of the Rights and Responsibilities to Religious Freedom Within the Faith Communities of South Africa (“the Survey”).
Religious freedom in the public square:
FOR SA explored whether the current legal landscape sufficiently protects the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion ("religious freedom"). We concluded that this ought to be the case, because according to the relevant Constitutional Court decisions religious freedom is inextricably linked with other fundamental rights (for e.g. human dignity, equality, freedom of expression and freedom of association). It is a right that cannot just be ignored but needs to be reasonably accommodated within the public realm – even if this means the State has to go through additional hardship to do so.
However, from the real-life practical examples cited in FOR SA’s response to the Survey, we show that the right to religious freedom (i.e. to live according to and talk about one’s faith in the public realm), is experiencing increasing pressure and strain.
This strain and pressure take the form of both court cases against people of faith for living out or expressing their beliefs in public (often bought as cases alleging unfair discrimination and/or hate speech), and of new legislation (which fails to properly consider and/or respect and/or protect and/or promote and/or fulfil the right to religious freedom).
This increasing pressure and strain indicate that existing laws should be amended to strengthen the protection of the right to religious freedom. FOR SA also recommended that this is an opportunity for the CRL Rights Commission to provide training (in accordance with its statutory and constitutional mandate) to both public and private actors on the importance of upholding religious freedom in an open and democratic society.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. If you have found this helpful, please consider supporting the work of FOR SA to protect our constitutional right to enjoy the freedom of religion by: