Written by: Daniela Ellerbeck
Article source: forsa.org.za

The South African Hindu Dharma Sabha has opened up two legal cases against local Christian ministers in Chatsworth, KwaZulu-Natal.

The Hindu group initially laid charges of crimen iniuria with the SAPS for what they claim were incidents of hate speech against Reverend Llewellyn Joseph (“Reverend Joseph”) and street evangelist Simeon Chetty (“Mr Chetty”), which were recorded on video. The first features Reverend Joseph, where the offending statement was made at the end of a service at Revival Ministries Church: “There’s a fear that, that curse, or those spirits are working in and through your home. And every time it comes around the Kavadi time, the previous time you just feel a heaviness come upon your family, your home. Is that person here? I want to pray for that person.”

The second video is of Mr Chetty, who was recorded as saying: “My father was a Telugu, my mother was a Tamil and while they were growing up they said, – you know what, they have no meaning – they worship idols, they worship other gods. But I am here to tell you that the name of Jesus is above every other name. Let me ask you this question, why would a Telugu man worship Jesus? Why would a Muslim man worship Jesus? Why would every religion give their life to Jesus?”

In addition, the Hindu group has now brought two separate cases to the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court (sitting as an Equality Court) against the same ministers, also citing Revival Ministries Church as a respondent. The relief the Hindu group is asking, is as follows:

  1. That the statements be declared hate speech in terms of section 10 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (“the Equality Act”);
  2. That the statements impaired members of the Hindu community’s right to dignity (section 10 of the Constitution);
  3. That Reverend Joseph and Mr Chetty undertake to never make such statements again and be interdicted from making such statements again;
  4. That both Reverend Joseph and Mr Chetty each complete 200 hours of community service; and
  5. That Reverend Joseph and Mr Chetty each pays R1 million in damages to the South African Hindu Dharma Sabha.

Clearly, the relief – if granted – will have drastic implications for all faiths in South Africa, and could set a very dangerous precedent for religious speech in South Africa.

FOR SA’s likely involvement as a friend of the Court
Both the constitutional right to religious freedom (section 15 of the Constitution) as well as the right to freedom of expression (section 16 of the Constitution) are implicated, and will be directly affected by the Court’s judgment in both these matters.

FOR SA has written to indicate its intention to become a friend of the Court (known as an “amicus curiae”) in both matters to provide the Court with vital legal information and legal arguments about the rights to religious freedom and freedom of expression. This is especially relevant because the definition of hate speech in section 10 of the Equality Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Appeal (“the SCA”) in November last year.  The Constitutional Court has this month heard the matter to decide whether or not to confirm the SCA’s judgment.  The Constitutional Court’s judgment is still pending.

Parties urged to mediate
FOR SA also believes it is important to recognise that South Africa is a nation with a plurality of cultures, races, religions, etc. This plurality also includes significant diversity in our religious beliefs and the expression thereof.  The Preamble of our Constitution envisages a “South Africa [which] belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”, and our courts have confirmed that this means that we celebrate our diversity, not merely tolerate it. (OGOD judgment).  The Constitutional Court has ruled that section 15 of our Constitution (which specifically protects everyone’s “right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”) includes not only a person’s right to believe as they wish, but also to declare publicly their beliefs and to practise them (even if they are “bizarre, illogical or irrational”) without being afraid of prosecution or persecution. As a result, everyone (whether Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other faith or belief) enjoys the right to practise their religion freely and publicly – whether by worship or by teaching and disseminating (i.e. telling others about) their beliefs.

It is therefore highly undesirable to litigate a matter that consists of a conflict between two equally protected faiths / belief systems.  Essentially, the court is being asked to decide between two worldviews and to set a “precedent” for other similar cases going forward. FOR SA therefore believes that a far better and preferable approach will be to try and resolve the dispute through mediation. In this regard, we have specifically approached the CRL Rights Commission (who is also cited as a respondent in both cases) to recommend and encourage them to play this role. The CRL is specifically mandated for this purpose, both in the Constitution and in section 4(b) and (c) of the CRL Act of 2002 which states that they should “promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance and national unity among and within …religious… communities, on the basis of equality, non-discrimination and free association and to foster mutual respect among … religious… communities”.

FOR SA will be closely monitoring developments in both cases in the event that these matters are not successfully mediated and progress to the Equality Court.

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Date published: 12/10/2020
Feature image: unsplash.com

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