A South African court said today that public schools can’t adopt one religion “to the exclusion of others.”
The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg issued the ruling as part of a case brought by Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (The Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy), or OGOD, which fights against religious indoctrination through public schools. The group sued six predominantly Christian institutions, asking for restraining orders on certain religious practices.
The judges didn’t grant the restraining orders against all 71 instances of conduct reportedly exhibiting a religious theme, but they did make a serious determination regarding single-religion schools.
Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions as long as they follow rules of local authorities, are conducted on an equitable basis, and attendance is voluntary, said Judge Willem van der Linde.
… we have however also found at the level of principle that neither a school governing body nor a public school may lawfully hold out that it subscribes to only a single particular religion to the exclusion of others.
Judge van Der Linde says public schools are organs of state, and the society in which they function is diverse.
— Michelle Craig (@MichelleL_Craig) June 28, 2017
This may not sound like a big deal, but in South Africa, it certainly is. A local trade union called Solidarity actually filed a brief with the court to push them toward allowing schools to focus on a particular religion.
Solidarity Chief Executive Dr. Dirk Hermann even said OGOD was trying to “destroy the moral glue that glues South Africans together” and that there was no such thing as “a neutral education.”
The question is whether that which the applicants are seeking is in line with what ordinary South Africans want. Looking at the statistics, this is clearly not the case… There is no such thing as neutral education. In practice, the atheists who brought the matter before court want to enforce their belief on school communities. Even a secular approach constitutes a certain worldview that is to be enforced on school communities. Under the guise of inclusion their arguments the will of communities is being excluded.
He’s echoing what so many conservative Christians say: By not promoting Christianity, schools are inherently promoting atheism. (This is also how they claim teaching evolution is promoting a kind of godlessness even if atheism is never discussed.)
Overall, the South Gauteng High Court’s ruling wasn’t the pie-in-the-sky win OGOD was originally seeking, namely the banning of specific religious rituals at public schools, but it was certainly a major victory and a slap in the face to those who believe education can be controlled by one particular religion.
That’s still a win in my book, because it prevents institutionalized religion from disenfranchising those who believe differently. Let’s hope we see more outcomes like this all around the world.
(Image via Shutterstock)