Written by: Advocate Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA Legal Counsel
Article source: JOY! Magazine

The right to freedom of religion, belief, and opinion is a fundamental human right protected by the Constitution. It belongs to every person and every religious organisation of whatever faith. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court has stated on various occasions that this includes the right not only to believe in your heart whatever you choose to believe, but also to share and to live out those beliefs freely and without fear of sanction by the State or anyone else.

Sharing your religious beliefs
The right to freely share your religious beliefs – whether from the pulpit, in public, or on social media – is also protected by the right to freedom of expression. This right gives broad protection to all kinds of speech, the narrow exceptions being propaganda for war; the incitement of imminent violence; and advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

The freedom to make statements that others don’t like
Importantly, this right to freedom of expression includes the freedom to make statements that others do not like, do not agree with, or even find offensive. In this regard, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) – the second highest court in our country – has confirmed that “no one is entitled to be insulated from opinions and ideas that they do not like” (in the Moyo case) and further that, “the fact that a particular expression may be hurtful of people’s feelings, or wounding, distasteful, politically inflammatory or downright offensive, does not exclude it from protection” (in the Masuku case). In other words, the Constitution does not grant you the right not to be offended.

Religious speech is increasingly under attack
Despite these statements by our Courts, in South Africa (but also around the Western world), freedom of religious speech is increasingly under attack. Christian beliefs in particular are often labelled as “fundamentalist,” “bigoted,” or “homophobic”, with activists targeting individuals and organisations to “cancel” or otherwise silence them from expressing their “politically incorrect” beliefs.

Legal cases against people of faith
Increasingly, legal cases are opened up in the Courts (often by the South African Human Rights Commission [SAHRC], or the Commission for Gender Equality [CGE] in response to pressure from activists) against Christian churches, ministries, pastors, and Christians in general – simply for declaring their beliefs, or for sharing them with others. These cases typically take the form of complaints of “unfair discrimination” or “hate speech” in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 (PEPUDA).

Far-reaching implications for our freedom
Right now, before the Chatsworth Equality Court (KZN), there is a case that could potentially have far-reaching implications for our freedom to freely share our faith. Mr Chetty, a Christian evangelist, shared his testimony at an open-air event of how he converted from Hinduism to Christianity. Subsequently, the SA Hindu Dharma Sabha instituted a legal case against him, initially asking the Court for R1 million in damages. Two other Hindu organisations have since joined the case, each asking for an additional amount of damages. FOR SA is therefore applying to be admitted as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”), to ensure that his (and your) freedom of religious expression remains protected. No one should find themselves in the same invidious position as Mr Chetty – facing financial ruin simply for sharing his faith, which Jesus commanded all those who believe in Him to do when He gave His disciples the Great Commission.

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Date published: 24/08/2021
Feature image: Artwork adapted from unsplash.com

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