Written by: Michael Swain, FOR SA Executive Director 
Article source: JOY! Magazine 

Our world today is very fragile, perhaps more so than we realise. Historically, only the thick walls of a city kept the wild animals and barbarian hordes at bay, allowing the citizens within to live out their lives in some degree of freedom and safety. Today, those walls of stone and mortar have been replaced by Constitutions and various other laws. However, we must not make the mistake of believing that the freedoms we enjoy are totally secure. If we take for granted the religious freedom rights so eloquently pronounced and guaranteed by our Constitution, we will likely follow the path of other nations, where they have been (and continue to be) quickly eroded.

A staggeringly high cost for freedom
Most people seem to assume that our culture and context of human rights have always existed. We scarcely give a second thought to our Constitution and the multiple freedoms that it bestows. Tragically, we seem to have forgotten that the freedoms that we enjoy and take for granted have not always been upheld. On the contrary, the recognition of what we now proclaim to be “inalienable rights” was secured over centuries and at a staggeringly high cost in war and bloodshed.

So, for example, when Protestantism emerged in central Europe 500 years ago, this new faith was seen as deeply heretical and those who embraced it were subjected to terrible persecution. People literally fled for their lives, including to South Africa. The Huguenots who settled here (in towns like Franschhoek) were the remnants of the +/- 2 million people who had embraced the Calvinist Protestant faith in France. They were systematically persecuted for their beliefs, eliminated by a series of massacres and a lengthy civil war until only a few thousand remained alive. Today, Protestants represent less than 3% of the French population.

Religious freedom is under attack
The reality is that religious freedom is under attack all over the so-called Western world. Pastors have been arrested and fined in the UK under public nuisance and hate speech laws simply for reading Scriptures in public. A member of the Norwegian Parliament faces criminal sanctions for a radio interview and a 2019 tweet (which included a photograph of an extract from the Bible) where she dared to question why the Finnish Lutheran Church was officially supporting Finland’s “Pride Week”. In February 2022, the New Zealand Parliament passed a law banning so-called “conversion therapy”, which criminalises with up to five years in jail those who offer prayer and counselling to people who may be looking to leave an LGBT+ lifestyle.

South Africa’s battle for freedom
In South Africa, the battle for faith and freedom continues to heat up. Last year, the PEPUDA Amendment Bill contained provisions that would have effectively eliminated religious freedom rights. The Hate Speech Bill proposes criminalising certain forms of offensive speech and, in its current form, contains inadequate protection for the bona fide sharing of personal religious convictions and beliefs. Court cases continue against a Christian independent school who declined to accommodate a cultural/religious practice that goes directly against its Biblical beliefs (the isiphandla case) and a wedding venue that declined to host and celebrate a same sex marriage (the Beloftebos case). A private member’s Bill to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy” is also in the wings. Make no mistake, unless we partner together on the front lines to defend our faith and freedoms, we will likely follow the global trend and quickly lose them – possibly forever.

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Date published: 17/04/2022

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