The Christian View Network said on Thursday that the non-promotion of one religion in public schools should be fought as it could inevitably lead to a string of further litigation on other issues.
This follows the judgement by the South Gauteng High Court on Wednesday, which ordered that no public school could adhere to and promote one single religion.
Christian View Network spokesperson, Philip Rosenthal, compared the matter to a sports match, saying: “If this court case was a sports match, it would be reported as 72 points to the school governing bodies and 1 point to the atheist lobby, in the first round of play, with two more rounds to go in this tournament, which is hardly an outright victory for the atheist lobby – as they are currently claiming.”
Rosenthal urged schools not to be intimidated into conceding their other arguments in the matter, all because one of their arguments was lost in court. “Schools are legally required to reasonably accommodate minorities, but there is no evidence of infringement of this right and so no change is needed. Schools thus should not hastily respond to the ruling.”
Last month an application by the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) was brought to the High Court requesting it to rule against having one dominant religion observed at public schools.
The high court in Johannesburg ruled on Wednesday that no public school could adhere to and promote one single religion, saying: “It is declared that it offends for a public school to promote or allow its staff to promote that it, as a public school, adheres to only one, or predominantly only one religion, to the exclusion of others; and to hold out that it promotes the interest of any one religion in favour of others.”
Judge Willem van der Linde said in handing down his ruling said that the Constitution supported both parties in the case, in that everyone had the right to religion which they could practice in public and that attendance was free and voluntary, but said the court remained concerned by the issue of a public school endorsing one religion.
“The need to celebrate diversity has been emphasised in the judgement.”
“We have found that neither school or SGB [school governing body] can say they subscribe to a specific religion,” van der Linde said.
OGOD brought the application against six schools – Laerskool Randhart, Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Hoërskool Linden, Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Oudtshoorn Gimnasium – arguing that religious practices at these schools resulted in the suppression of scientific teachings of evolution, and a religious ethos that was a form of coercion and an abuse of learners’ rights.