Comments on the CRL's Report on the Commercialisation of Religion (February 2017)
Mrs. Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva
Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission
33 Hoodft Street
Dear Mrs Mkhwanazi-Xaluva
We are deeply concerned about the recommendations put forward in the CRL Rights Commission’s Report on the “Commercialisation of Religion”.
Our concerns are summarised as follows:
State Regulation of Religion
1.Even though the report recommends peer regulation of each religion, it effectively amounts to state regulation of religion. The Report identifies criteria required for a religion to be accredited. The magnitude of the proposed legislation would be far-reaching for every religious practitioner (the definition of which is so broad that it could include volunteers such as a Home Group leader or a children’s ministry leader). What constitutes a “religious practitioner” and what is a “significant amount of followers” is very subjective. There are many religious groups that would currently not meet most of these criteria. The recommendation that every religious practitioner “shall be required to obtain a license to operate” is sweeping and draconian. In Section 17, it states that all religious institutions will be “expected to fall under an umbrella organisation”. Freedom of association also means the freedom not to associate with any particular group, including such an umbrella organisation. Again, there are some religious groups that would not fit into any category. All of this constitutes unnecessary, time-wasting and money-wasting intrusion that can only do violence to the Bill of Rights and the fundamental rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of worship, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Hallmarks of Democracy
2.Freedom of religion is a hallmark of democracy. The potential damage to freedom of religion, speech, thought, association and assembly, should this Report become law, would mean that South Africa would no longer be a democratic country but would rather resemble autocratic states such as the USSR, Red China or Cuba, where house churches were raided and pastors imprisoned.
Not Addressing the Real Issues
3.The Report does not address the real problems that surfaced from the initial investigation e.g. fraud, and physical harm – all of which we already have laws to deal with such incidents.Fraud, false advertising, misappropriation of funds, contravening banking laws, educational laws and others give more than enough opportunities for the relevant authorities to prosecute crimes.
Lack of Consultation
4. Only a small selection of Christian leaders were consulted in the process leading up to this report. There is a huge variety of beliefs within Christianity regarding for example, church leadership structures. Other religions too, have a range of different expressions, interpretations and applications of their sacred texts. Freedom of religion is vital for any democratic society.
For the sake of every South African and the freedom to believe, teach and live out their beliefs, whether they belong to a particular religious group or not, we urge that the proposals in Section 17 – 19 of the Report be scrapped with immediate effect. The state should concentrate on fighting crime and corruption, not on interfering in matters of faith and conscience.
Christian Action Network