Written by: Daniela Ellerbeck, FOR SA
Article source: forsa.org.za

FOR SA has previously written on the South African Hindu Dharma Sabha’s (SAHDS) two legal cases against local Christian ministers in Chatsworth, KwaZulu-Natal. The previous article focused on what hate speech is and specifically looked at religious speech in South Africa. This article will briefly recap what the cases are about, and look at the latest developments in both.

Background
The SAHDS had instituted two separate cases to the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court (sitting as an Equality Court) for what they claim were two separate incidents of hate speech committed by Reverend Llewellyn Joseph (“Reverend Joseph”) and street evangelist Simeon Chetty (“Mr Chetty”) respectively. Both incidents were recorded on video.

The video of Reverend Joseph, shows him saying: “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 video of Mr Chetty, recorded records him 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?”.

What the SAHDS wanted:
The relief the SAHDS asked for was, amongst other things:

  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 Reverend Joseph and Mr Chetty each complete 200 hours of community service; and
  5. That Reverend Joseph and Mr Chetty each pay R1 million in damages to the South African Hindu Dharma Sabha.

Update on the latest developments:
One has to remember that section 10 of the Equality Act has been declared to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Appeal. A confirmation of unconstitutionality is currently pending in front of the Constitutional Court. This complicates matters in which parties rely on section 10 of the Equality Act (like the SAHDS’s).  Furthermore, should the relief the SAHDS seeks be granted, it will have drastic implications for all faiths in South Africa, and could set a very dangerous precedent for religious speech. It is for this reason that FOR SA, in its previous article, wrote about why we believe the matters should be mediated, especially in a nation with a plurality of cultures, races, religions, etc.

We now turn to the two separate cases to discuss their latest developments.

First case
Parties involved: SAHDS v Llewellyn Joseph, Revival Ministries, South African Human Rights Commission and CRL Rights Commission (“CRL”)

The developments in this matter are that the matter was heard by the Equality Court on 22 September 2020.  At this hearing, the Magistrate ordered the CRL to mediate the matter.

This mediation was held on 17 February 2021 and it is FOR SA’s understanding that it was successful.

At the time of writing this article, the CRL had finalised its report on the mediation, but was still going through its internal processes to ratify same before sharing it with the public.

Second case
Parties involved: SAHDS v Simon Bradley Chetty, Revival Ministries, South African Human Rights Commission and CRL

In this case, several parties indicated they wished to formally join as parties in the case. FOR SA understands that both the joinder applications by the Acharaya Shyam Ramanuj Foundation and the Hindu Dharma Trust were granted by the Court on 18 November 2020.

The matter was heard again on 8 March 2021, and at this hearing, there were eight (8) different parties present.  It is FOR SA’s understanding the matter was postponed to 21 April 2021 and FOR SA will be closely monitoring it. FOR SA has also previously written to the SAHDS and Mr Chetty, to indicate its likely involvement as a “friend of the court” in this matter, as it concerns both the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, should this matter not be mediated but go to court.

Conclusion – what does this mean for religious speech?
As previously stated, in our diverse society with its multitude of cultures and religious beliefs, which are constitutionally protected, people should not be prosecuted by the State for sharing their faith.  Any statements that fall short of hate speech – for an explanation on hate speech see this article – are protected speech in our country.

We are all free to express our religious beliefs and share them with one another, as long as those expressions do not cross the line into hate speech.  FOR SA has previously said, that it is a good thing, that mere offensive speech is not prohibited by the Constitution, because if we could ask (or even compel) the State to prosecute those who offend us, then we ourselves could be prosecuted for offending someone else.

In closing, FOR SA repeats the Supreme Court of Appeal’s appeal for sensitivity and appreciation within our multicultural society found in the Qwelane case“[w]e have to, in our beloved country, find a way in which to relate to each other more graciously”.  While we are free to express our religious beliefs and share these freely, we need to be mindful of how we do so.

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Date published: 28/03/2021
Feature image: Image for illustrative purposes only. unsplash.com

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