14 September 2022
For immediate distribution
Public submissions not duly considered on Hate Speech Bill
During last week’s meeting between Parliament and the Department of Justice on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill (“the Hate Speech Bill”), the Department was taken to task for failing to include or properly consider submissions made during the public participation process.
The meeting’s purpose was for the Department to provide Parliament with its summary and responses to the numerous public submissions made on the Bill in 2021. However, it was revealed that substantive legal submissions had not been considered by the Department. These included submissions from both the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) and Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA).
Requests to strengthen religious exemption clause ignored:
“A major problem for the faith communities of South Africa is that the clause in the Bill which is supposed to protect bona fide religious expression from being criminalised is inadequate,” says Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA. “Only strengthening this clause will prevent the possibility of people being sent to jail for religious speech – especially in light of this Bill’s wide definitions of harm and victim.”
The Department of Justice previously told Parliament that the religious exemption clause, as it is now written, would only apply to sermons but would not protect someone who expressed their personal religious views, which could then be considered to be “hate speech”.
The vast majority of over 103 000 individual submissions made via the DearSA online public participation platform also called for the religious exemption clause to be strengthened to provide robust protection for the free expression of bona fide faith convictions and beliefs. However, none of these submissions have been considered to date by the Department.
Public participation part of healthy democracy:
Deputy Minister John Jeffery acknowledged that there was “a break in communication in terms of the committee section sending all of the submissions through to the department”. However, he said that “the Department is really only being asked to comment on the substantive submissions” and expressed dissatisfaction about what he called “this procedure of trying to lobby support and get signatories” which he did not “think really helps the parliamentary process.”
“FOR SA’s view is that extensive public participation is a healthy sign of a working democracy which properly considers the views expressed by all its citizens on specific issues,” said Swain, “We believe that the Department’s omissions in this current matter clearly highlight the need for checks and balances to make sure that all submissions by all sectors of society are duly considered by our public servants.”
Parliament recognised the importance of correcting the omissions and asked the Department to make sure it includes the views expressed in these submissions and then provide Parliament with a revised summary so that it can properly consider all the inputs made by the public. Their deliberations on the Bill continue.
Deputy Minister John Jeffrey’s comments summarised and quoted in this press release can be heard from minutes 29:00 – 31:55 on the video recording of the proceedings in Parliament on this matter:
For more information, contact:
Executive Director, FOR SA
Tel: 072 270 1217
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: