No special treatment for religious community
Last month a group of applicants approached the courts with the aim of having the lockdown regulations relaxed to permit religious worship to take place.
Johannesburg-based attorney Ziyaad Ebrahim Patel – an international human rights lawyer and lawfare activist – believes the insensitivity of the application ‘speaks volumes’ at a time when ordinary South Africans are battling with survival and an uncertain future.
In what Patel calls ‘a damning judgment’ on the access-to-masjid case, Justice Brenda Nuekircher reaffirmed the ‘obvious seriousness’ of the coronavirus pandemic gripping the world and SA.
Writing on the Mail & Guardian Online site, Patel says sound reason and logic prevailed in her judgment.
Citing the Constitutional Court's ruling in De Lange v Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of SA and Another as precedent, the judge summed up the heart of the case: ‘What this application is not about is whether the applicants are correct in their interpretation of their religious doctrine. It is also not about whether they are true in their beliefs. What this application is about is whether or not regulations 11B(1)(a)(i) and (ii) issued under the Disaster Management Act are reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances under which they were promulgated.’
Nuekircher found the regulations reasonable and justifiable under pandemic conditions, and to be a lawful limitation in terms of section 36 of the Constitution.
Patel says the judgment brought the applicants’ case into ‘stark relief’ when – in paragraph 70 – the court’s ratio decidendi was underscored: ‘For every security officer required to police a place of worship and for every medical personnel required to be in attendance, there is one less available to be on the frontline of this pandemic, one less to ensure compliance and one less to assist those sick and in need of care.’
Patel says that as the world and SA deal with the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, the request by the applicants would further overburden the justice and public health systems with magisterial permits for masjid access and deployment of healthcare workers at masjids.
He adds: ‘The laudable judgment reaffirms the Muslim community – like any other religious community – shall be entitled to fair and equal treatment under the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, but will not be accorded any special treatment during the Covid-19 crisis.’
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