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Update of Key Concerns Regarding CRL Final Report

Source: FOR SA (Freedom of Religion South Africa)
Date Added: 2017-05-19

Category: General NewsIssues - Freedom of Religion
FOR SA has been carefully monitoring the developments concerning the CRL Rights Commission Report on the Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems including their recommendations for the regulation of religion in South Africa. 
 
They have now published their Final Report (click here to read), which they intend to present to Parliament sometime in early June.  They are asking for amendments to be made to the CRL Act to enable the Commission to become the final arbiter of religion in South Africa, with the ability to establish an extensive national structure to license (and thereby control) every Religious Practitioner and Place of Worship. President Mandela said that “the Church should be the watchdog to the Government” whereas this proposal, however, will reverse the roles and make the State the watchdog over (and ultimate controller of) the whole religious community of South Africa.

Having considered the CRL’s Final Report, we remain deeply concerned about the implications of their proposed recommendations for freedom of religion in South Africa. For more information and in particular, for our detailed critique of the Final Report and our concerns, we encourage you to click here to read the “Open Letter” FOR SA sent to the Chairlady.

A few highlights from the “Open Letter”: The Final Report does not specify how the proposed Peer Review Committee will operate.  This is critical to know, since this one body will govern the entire Christian religion.  It is also clear that this body will make decisions on doctrine, because they must decide whether or not an Umbrella Organisation will be recognised, taking into account (among other things) whether it has “set minimum standards of good governance, ethics and acceptable religious practices as per their religious doctrine” and whether the spiritual leaders of the Umbrella Organisation are able “to ensure that [member of this Umbrella Organisation] remains on a good spiritual path”.

The Report also fails to specify the proposed conditions for an Umbrella Organisation to qualify as such. We are concerned that many of the smaller ministers fraternals and similar organisations will not qualify.  They will then be forced to merge with other Umbrella Organisations and they will not have a seat or a say on the Peer Review Committee. 

What is clear from the Report, is that every Religious Practitioner will be forced to join an Umbrella Organisation in order to obtain a license, without which he/she will not be able to practice religion. Again, the conditions for licensing (both of Religious Practitioners, and Places of Worship) are not mentioned at all.

The Final Report is silent on how the proposed structure will be financed, although the most obvious solution will be for the CRL to charge an annual fee for the licenses of both Religious Practitioners and Places of Worship.  We estimate that this could add close to a Billion Rand to the State coffers.

FOR SA has already repeatedly expressed our solidarity and support for what we understand to be a bona fide attempt by the CRL to address genuine abuses taking place in the name of religion, while highlighting our deep concern regarding their proposal to regulate and license religion in South Africa, which we view as unnecessary, unworkable and unconstitutional. 

The intention of FOR SA’s submission (representing over 6 million people from 277 denominations, fraternals, churches and other religious groups) was to assist the CRL by providing it with a comprehensive analysis of the issues raised in its (initial) Report and giving detailed reasons (both legal and practical) why its proposed solution which effectively amounts to State regulation of religion, was unnecessary.
 

HERE IS A BRIEF RECAP OF OUR CONCERNS

 
LICENSING IS UNNECESSARY

We believe licensing of the entire religious community of South Africa is unnecessary, because every concern raised and abuse mentioned in the CRL’s Report can be fully dealt with using existing laws.  The problem is that these laws are not being properly enforced.  Licensing is also complete overkill, since the vast majority of the religious community are law abiding citizens who are dedicated to serving and helping others.  The law should therefore be promptly and vigorously enforced against anyone who tries to hide or justify their illegal activities under the cloak of religion or religious freedom.
 
 
LICENSING IS UNWORKABLE

We believe that the CRL’s proposed course of action is unworkable, because it will require a huge national and regional infrastructure to enforce and to police.  The CRL does not make it clear how this is to be funded, but it is likely that there will be an annual cost for the licenses that the CRL will issue.  This will in turn place a substantial financial burden on the religious community and divert money from other, bona fide charitable purposes.  It is also clear that it will be practically impossible to ensure that everyone will participate.  Those who do not, and those who continue to commit the type of abuses that this licensing is supposed to prevent, will in any event still need to have the law enforced against them.
 
 
LICENSING IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Importantly, we believe that the CRL’s proposal is unconstitutional.  Given the magnitude of the dramatic change in relationship between the religious community and the State that this will entail, the level of consultation and process followed has been woefully inadequate. More importantly, the CRL was established by the Constitution as an “institution of State” and its Chairperson and Commissioners are political appointments.  It was never set up or intended to act as a licensing body to regulate religion in South Africa, especially as this will inevitably entail some level of doctrinal interpretation. 

Although the CRL claims that they are already “the first and final arbiter of religion”, the fact that they require amendments to the CRL Act proves that these powers were not included in their original mandate.  If these are made and the CRL's proposal is successful, the State will have effectively captured control of all religion in South Africa.  This is fundamentally contrary to section 15 of the Constitution. 

It is evident from their Final Report that the CRL has not made any substantive amendments to their proposal. They have either ignored or obfuscated the concerns and objections that FOR SA (and others) have raised.  FOR SA believes that it is vitally important that our cherished freedom of religion is both protected and promoted.  The faith community of South Africa has always enjoyed this right and our Constitution guarantees it.   As such, since this is an evident attempt by an institution of State to intervene, we are deeply concerned about the consequences and seriously question the motives, especially when there are better and less onerous solutions available. 
 
 
 
THERE ARE WORKABLE AND MORE EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE

The alternatives that have been presented to the CRL are both practical and widely supported. Most importantly, they respect the historic and current position that the religious community must be kept free of State interference and allowed to truly self-regulate.
  1. Where actual harm has been identified in the Report, this can be addressed through the implementation and enforcement of existing legislation. The effectiveness of this has been clearly demonstrated in the “Prophet of Doom” case, where the Limpopo Health Department were granted an interdict to shut down his harmful practice. If the CRL does not have the existing capacity to refer complaints of offences to the relevant authorities, it is proposed that a “rapid response” unit be established within the CRL structure as a cost effective and efficient way to fulfil this purpose.
     
  2. Since many of the issues identified in the CRL Report derive from a lack of compliance, often fuelled by ignorance, a critical role of the CRL is to educate, inform and indeed encourage, religious communities and institutions towards lawful and accountable behaviour.There are currently well developed, practical and scalable initiatives that have broad support within the religious sector that will put in place capacity building and training mechanisms for the religious community.
     
  3. The CRL can assist in the necessary consultation process needed to develop a “Code of Ethics” to govern the expected types of behaviour, standards and processes.  Although subscription to this would be voluntary, it would define what can be expected from any Religious Practitioner and/or Place of Worship and be an endorsement of their adherence to these standards.  The South African Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms provides a foundation from which to develop such a “Code of Ethics”.
 
FOR SA is committed to protect and promote our constitutional right to Freedom of Religion. In this, we have a united front of religious leaders representing at least 6 million believers.  The challenge is that the CRL is wooing some denominations and church organisations by telling them that they will not be affected and that it will be "business as usual": they will be recognised as Umbrella Organisations; they will have a seat on the Peer Review Committee for the Christian religion; and the CRL will give them additional resources and support. What they may not understand, is that they will pay a price for this, because they will then themselves be accountable to the CRL (i.e. a State institution) for every decision and they will be under its control.

The CRL’s proposal may seem benign, but it will almost certainly turn cancerous at some point.  Once we lose this cherished freedom, it is unlikely that it will ever be regained, so we urge everyone to remain vigilant and prayerful as we continue to monitor this threat.

Michael Swain
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Source: FOR SA (Freedom of Religion South Africa)
Date Added: 2017-05-19

Category: General NewsIssues - Freedom of Religion
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