Southern Africa

Religious rights of schools could be “swept away” in SA legal challenge

Six South African schools with a Christian ethos are to be brought before courts to defend their right to follow a single religion against a secularist challenge.

According to a report the six Schools are being challenged by OGOD (the Organisasie Vir Godsdienste Onderrig en Demokrasie) which argues that the South African constitution and National Policy on Religion and Education do not allow for a single religion to be dominant at a public institution.

Hans Pietersen South African secularist campaigner against religion in schools
Hans Pietersen South African secularist campaigner against religion in schools

The schools cited in the court case are Laerskool Randhart, Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Hoerskool Linden – all in Gauteng – and two Oudtshoorn schools, Hoerskool Oudtshoorn and Lagenhoven Gimnasium.

All of the named schools have Christian assemblies, pray before sports matches and describe themselves as having a ‘Christian ethos’.

The aims of OGOD, led by Hans Pietersen, is to ‘eradicate religious indoctrination through public schools, to identify and expose magical thinking and to promote a democratic, secular and human rights-based society.”

The Schools claim that the constitution allows for voluntary religious expression in the public sphere. They say that prayers and religious observance are not compulsory for pupils.

Hans Pietersen, founder of OGOD, became a secularist campaigner against religious schools when he realised that his own children were being ‘exposed’ to Christian beliefs at the school they attended. In 2014 he found pro bono layers to help him with a legal challenge against the right of the schools to have a Christian ethos.

Cause for Justice, a religious freedom organisation warned that if Pietersen is successful, “religious rights could be swept away.”