In a verdict that has been met with both praise and criticism, Judge Willem van der Linde ruled on June 28 2017 that public schools cannot favour any one religion. Thus, calling for government schools to amend any policies that promote exclusionary religious practices because it violates the Schools Act.
The case was initiated by the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD), which argued that religious bias in South African schools is prevalent. The body went on to say that it’s not anti-religion in schools, but that it shouldn’t exclude learners who do not subscribe to the dominate religion practiced at a particular school.
For example, instances of prayer and reading of scripture in assembly, the handing out of Bibles and having children draw pictures of Biblical stories all violated the Constitution, if children are forced to participate.
“It is not the school’s task to instruct children how to be religious for the simple reason that state money on school infrastructure to promote religion, which in most cases would be Christianity. Those days are over. That was the old model that was buried in 1996,” said Hans Pietersen, a member of OGOD.
Of course, the ruling has stirred up some controversy and attracted some detractors. The Christian View Network maintained that it should be up to a school’s governing body to decide on what religion practices will be adopted.
The High Court’s ruling did leave room for practicing religion in schools, but the observances must be justifiable and attendance free and voluntary.
This is particularly important since the freedom of choice and expression is essential for true democracy and that an even playing field, so to speak, should be the foundation for transformation in South Africa.