Judges focus on discrimination in schools religion case
If one majority religion is practised in school assemblies‚ then any pupil who asks to miss the assembly is forced to say they are different. Advocate Johan du Toit SC was pressed on this in the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) as he defended six Afrikaans schools’ right to promote a Christian ethos‚ including Bible readings, at assembly, notes a TimesLIVE report.
In 2014‚ Stellenbosch resident Hans Pietersen SC applied to have these six schools interdicted from being Christian state-funded schools with Christian prayers‚ songs and logos. He argued that the single religious nature was unconstitutional and discriminatory to learners who were not Christian‚ breaching minority learners' rights of diversity and equality. The Federation of Governing Bodies of SA schools (Fedsas) is representing the schools.
Du Toit was pressed by all three judges to explain how a single religion did not automatically discriminate against and exclude other learners and thus undermine their constitutional right to equality. Judge Colin Lamont said: ‘The whole point to open up and rejoice in diversity is not to perpetuate ring-fenced groups.’ He suggested allowing a single school ‘to adopt a particular religion as its own’ did not encourage diversity at school.
Du Toit noted the schools allow learners of other religions or secular learners to miss Christian assembly. But Lamont pointed out: ‘By creating a system at school and requiring them to opt out (of assembly)‚ you require that person to say I am different. How is that not violation of other issues (rights) in the Constitution?'
The schools argue that some learners will be excluded whether a school promotes one or several religions or remains secular, a Beeld report notes. Du Toit argued an opt-in system will have the same effect as an opt-out system as the schools reflect the communities in which they operate. It will therefore make ‘no substantial difference’ if a religious assembly requires opting in as those who don’t want to take part would still have to ‘indicate they are not part of the mainstream’. ‘The system works. Naturally, not everybody will be satisfied with it, but it works,’ Du Toit said. He also noted that 16 pupils at Laerskool Baanbreker, one of the respondents, still had not indicated which religion, if any, they want to practise. The school cannot put pressure on them to decide, ‘because it then becomes even more awkward’. ‘So how does one accommodate all the learners if some will not divulge their religion,’ he asked.
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