Written By: Philip Rosenthal
ChristianView Network condemns this mornings judgment of Wednesday 28 June 2017, by the South Gauteng High Court that school governing bodies may not
adopt a particular single faith religious ethos is legally flawed for multiple reasons and hopefully will be overturned on appeal. The ruling undermines the authority of parents through the school governing body. It is unfair to people of faith who have to contribute taxes towards education, but cannot then benefit by having those taxes used towards single faith ethos. The national consultation by Education Minister Bengu in 1999 found that almost all parents and religious groups wanted single faith ethos in schools.
Judge van der Linde was however right in dismissing the detailed list of 71 demands of the atheistic lobby group O.G.O.D. based on the principle of “subsidiarity”. In other words, the legal challenge must first appeal to the lowest level of law, which in this case is the policy of the school governing body, then provincial law, rather than appealing directly to the constitution. The atheist lobby group challenge this time was badly legally framed, but it is probable there will be more litigation.
Secondly the judge was right in dismissing challenge based on the National Religion Policy, which is not enforceable by the court. The judge wrongly assumed that public schools are ‘organs of state’, rather than a parent-teacher-state partnership; confused the constitutional affirmation of ‘unity in diversity’ with the positive requirement of ‘celebrating diversity’. In other words, tolerance of other religions does not imply a need to ‘celebrate’ multi-faith observances, with which most
people of faith have a strong objection.
Van der Linde wrongly assumed that the SGB rules must accommodate both past and possible future demographics, while in fact such rules are continually
being modified in different schools and so there is no need for the court to interfere. He also said that each school must accommodate any possible religion equally in each school policy in direct contradiction to the interpretation of the same clause by the Constitutional Court in 1996 (S v Lawrence). Rather the Concourt said that said each school did not have to accommodate every religion, but that a decision must be made in a fair manner, what were the most appropriate religious observances for each particular school.
Neutrality in religious education policy is impossible. Secularism and multi-faith religious observances are favoured by this decision, while particular religious faith observances are prejudiced.
The matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal and then to the Constitutional Court and thus School governing bodies will not be legally bound by this decision until such time as such appeals are concluded. In the interim, they will be able to continue as before.