Threats to Freedom of Speech in South Africa

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“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1

 

On Wednesday, 15 February, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA) hosted a meeting at His People in Goodwood, Cape Town, to discuss potential threats to religious freedom posed by the Hate Speech Bill and the CRL Rights Commission’s proposals to regulate religion.

 

Ministry of Injustice
The meeting was attended by Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery, who addressed the delegates and acknowledged that the Hate Speech provisions in the Bill are “overbroad” and probably in conflict with “The Constitutional Right to Religious Freedom.” Jeffery assured delegates that their right to express their convictions freely would be protected “as long as this did not amount to an incitement to violence.” He then gave an example of a minister who he claimed had called for the killing of gays from the pulpit.

 

Due Process of Law or Taking the Law into Your Own Hand
One of the delegates in the meeting challenged him on this and made the distinction between somebody discussing academically what the Law of God may require as far as law and due process of justice goes and someone inciting people to take law into their own hands. There certainly is a big difference between advocating that abortion be recognised as murder and babies protected by law from the violence of abortion by due process of law and some rabble-rouser calling for individuals to take the law into their own hands and murder abortionists!

Shutting Down DebateLegislation 1
Michael Swain, Executive Director of FORSA said, “The Bill’s current hate speech provisions have the potential to shut down important dialogue and to entrench a polarisation of viewpoints.” The ANC Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery, acknowledged that his department had received over 76,000 submissions and these would “inform their redrafting process” (which would take into account the concerns raised by the religious community. The Bill will then be sent back to Cabinet and re-introduced to parliament, probably in the second half of the year, when there would be further opportunity for public comment.)

Criminalising Free Speech
ACDP Member of Parliament, Steve Swart, challenged Mr Jeffery over the danger of criminalising free speech. At a time when our legal system is overwhelmed and not coping with real, serious crimes, such as armed robberies, assaults, murders and rape, was it wise and helpful to swamp the courts even further with time-wasting and money-wasting intrusions into Freedom of speech and Freedom of Religion? Mr Jeffery then opinioned that, in the light of the “wars of religion”, it was necessary to implement the Hate Speech Bill.

Death by Government
At this, I stood up and challenged him that is seemed ironic to have a politician talk about wars of religion, which after all ended 350 years ago with the Peace of Westphalia 1648. We have just come out of a century where secular humanist states, atheist states, socialist and communist states, have murdered over 190 million of their own citizens. The “wars of religion,” which ended so many centuries ago, pale into insignificance compared to the colossal body count of secular states in our own life times. Secular humanism has caused most of the wars and massacres in the 20th century as documented by Death by Government, by Professor R.J. Rummel and The Black Book of Communism, which documents from the archives of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe over 100 million of their own citizens killed in peace-time in the name of atheism, just between 1917 and 1991. All this started with registering churches and restricting freedoms.

252Hypocrisy and Failure
The Hate Speech Bill threatens freedom of speech, restricts freedom of conscience and erodes freedom of religion. Who determines what hate speech is? Are we to believe that a government, which in the last 23 years has failed to deal with “kill the boer, kill the farmer” songs and slogans, which have not only been incitement to violence, but have actually led to over 4,000 brutal murders and tortures of South African farmers, is seriously concerned with dealing with genuine hate speech and hate practise?

What About Islamic Jihad
Are we to believe that the ANC government really intends to deal with genuine hate speech and incitement to violence, such as is found in many mosques in our country, where Jihad is proclaimed and promoted? Are they really going to monitor Friday messages at the mosque?

What About Pornography and Blasphemy?
Freedom of speech is not negotiable. Are we to accept that pornography is legally protected as free speech? Even blasphemy is considered free speech! But our sermons and postings are now to be examined to see is anything can be construed as offensive by subjective secularists who have a track record of harassing and prosecuting Christians? In the past, rulers stifled dissent by accusing their critics of “treason!” Religious rulers silenced opposition by declaring critics to be “heretics!” Today rulers seek to silence opposition by shouting “hate speech!” Freedom of speech is essential for any free society.

An Anti-Christian Agendabible
There is a clear anti-Christian bias amongst many in this present government and we do not believe that political appointees will be fair, even handed and objective in determining what constitutes hate speech and what does not.

An Inadequate Response
Many of the delegates assembled, responded to my questions and statements with applause. This seemed to unsettle John Jeffery who stuttered and stammered in trying to formulate a reply, neglecting to address most of the issues raised and lamely said: “I do not think that it is constructive to try and compare who was most responsible for deaths in the last century. Let us just agree that some people died because of wars of religion.”

Who is Responsible for this Bill?
Another delegate then asked who had sponsored this Bill. Was it an ANC Bill? To this, John Jeffery responded emphatically that it was “a lie” to suggest that this was an ANC Bill. This Bill had been recommended from independent social groups. When asked which groups? He responded: the Jewish Board of Deputies and the LGBTQ lobby.

In the Middle of Cancer is ANC
When asked how it came to be presented before parliament, he finally acknowledged that his department, the Ministry of Justice, had tabled it. When Mr Jeffery was asked if the Ministry of Justice consisted of all political parties, or just ANC appointees, he had to admit that the Ministry of Justice was made up of ANC members, as he himself was. However, he still felt the need to emphasise that it was a “lie” to suggest that it was an ANC Bill. (Although all ANC members in the ANC appointed Ministry of Justice had formulated and put forward this so-called Hate Speech Bill.) Thousands of churches have been closed in Cuba and tens of thousands of Christians imprisoned under similar legislation, enacted under Fidel Castro.

Limiting Freedom
Mr Jeffery claimed that no rights are absolute and all must have limitations. He used the example of banning American Pastor Steve Anderson from coming to South Africa and Germany criminalising any questioning of the Holocaust as legal precedents. What ever happened to being innocent until proven guilty? Truth does not fear investigation. Stifling debate and criminalising dissent does not make for a free society. Condemning people without granting them meaningful opportunity to answer accusations is unjust.

Why Not Use Existing Laws to Deal with Abuses?
FORSA Advocate Nadene Badenhorst stated: “We recognise that the commission has identified legitimate concerns regarding unlawful practices and harmful behaviour, but there are exiting laws in place to deal with these problems.” She pointed out that the Department of Health had recently obtained an interdict to curtail the activities of the so-called prophet of doom (the man who was spraying insecticide in the faces of his adherents!)

Unconstitutional, Unworkable and Unnecessary
“The invasive registration process proposed by the Commission is … unconstitutional, unworkable and unnecessary.” Nadene Badenhorst pointed out that there are isolated incidents of excess and abuse taking place in the name of religion, as in any area of life. However, the proposed regulation of religion recommended by the CRL Commission is not in keeping with the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms to which the CRL is a signatory.

Deal with Crime Not Convictions
Nadene pointed out that some of the problems identified in the CRL Report can be described as practices that are unusual, but not harmful or unlawful. The Constitutional Court has already held that people must be free to believe even if their beliefs seem “bizarre, illogical or irrational.” Practices that are potentially harmful, dangerous, or unethical, can be dealt with in terms of existing civil and criminal law.

Expose Con-Men
The third categorisation of Commercialisation of Religion needs to be exposed. Charlatans and con-artists who exploit the poor and vulnerable in society need to be exposed and dealt with as false advertising and encouraging greater discernment amongst consumers.

Compulsory Registration Will Not Solve the Problem
Advocate Badenhorst observed that there is no guarantee that compulsory registration would be effective in preventing and combatting the problems identified by the CRL. The proposed regulation of religious practitioners is not practical. How can any multi-faith peer-review council sit as judge over a dispute within a particular religion? How could such a committee judge a dispute between churches or denominations holding to different interpretations and practices?

125Constitutional Freedoms are at Stake
From a constitutional perspective the CRL’s proposed Regulation of Religion in South Africa, if implemented, would violate the Constitutional Rights to Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Association and Freedom of Belief and Opinion.

Enforcement of Existing Laws is Needed
It was submitted that rather than creating new laws, which would place additional burdens on the already strained resources of government, the police and the courts, the state should focus its energy and resources on enforcing the existing laws to address the problems identified. FORSA strongly recommended a Code of Conduct to which religious institutions and practitioners should be encouraged to subscribe. However, one needs to find solutions that are practical and constitutionally permissible without infringing on, or eroding, the freedoms of religion, belief, opinion, speech, conscience and association. The history of registering churches and religious practitioners as in the Soviet Union, Red China and Cuba show the disastrous and destructive results of interfering with freedom of conscience.

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13

Communicate Your Concerns
The CRL Rights Commission has invited comments on their Report to be submitted directly to the Commission at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Comments to the Ministry of Justice on their Hate Speech Bill can be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

“As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
 

Dr. Peter Hammond
Frontline Fellowship
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Tel: 021-689-4480
Email:
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Website: www.frontline.org.za

Christian Action P.O.Box 23632 Claremont 7735 Cape Town South Africa info@christianaction.org.za - 021-689-4481 - www.christianaction.org.za
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