The CRL Rights Commission (CRL) has ignored reason and the voice of the Church and is proceeding with its agenda to enforce State regulation and control of religion in South Africa. On Tuesday, 27 June 2017, the CRL submitted its Final Report on “Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems”
to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).
We believe it VERY IMPORTANT to alert the religious community of South Africa to the serious threat to freedom of religion posed by the CRL’s proposal to establish an extensive national structure to license (and thereby control) every “religious practitioner” and “place of worship”. FOR SA believes that this proposal is unnecessary, unworkable, unconstitutional and poses a grave threat to the future of Religious Freedom. It effectively amounts to “State capture of religion”.
While there is widespread support for the concerns that the CRL has highlighted (such as people being forced to drink petrol etc.), the CRL has ignored every submission presenting and detailing the alternative, viable and well-supported solutions to every issue they have identified.
NOTE: The Report is now in the hands of COGTA, from where it will be referred to Parliament for consideration and adoption of the CRL’s proposals.
It is therefore absolutely crucial that religious communities make their voices heard on this issue to COGTA, who have invited such representations.
(For details on how to make such representations, contact FOR SA
CONCERNS WITH CRL’s PROPOSALS
- The CRL is an institution of the State, so this proposal amounts to State control of religion
The CRL is defined in the Constitution as a State institution. Its mandate is ‘to promote and protect the .... religious rights of communities’ and it was never intended, either in terms of the Constitution or the CRL Act, to license and control them. Its Commissioners are appointed by the President, so whoever the President appoints will have ultimate power over the Church to decide who can continue as “State-endorsed” churches. This potentially opens the door for government to silence the Church from speaking out about issues which may implicate or negatively reflect on the State.
The CRL’s proposal will bring about a complete reversal of the historic relationship between government and the religious sector. It is a clear overreach of the legislative powers and prerogatives of the CRL as a Chapter 9 institution, which do not grant them executive power. Their campaign to assume this function through an amendment of the CRL Act is therefore an attempted “power grab”. It is misguided, unconstitutional and amounts to State capture of religion.
- The “Peer Review Committee” will be dependent on, and under the control of, the CRL. This is NOT self-regulation, but State control of religion!
The CRL proposes that each religion has its own Peer Review Committee, so for example, there will be a single Committee for the entire Christian religion. The CRL claims that this is self-regulation, but the Peer Review Committee is defined as “an advisory body to the CRL Rights Commission” (page 47 of CRL Report).
The Report clearly states that “the final decision powers shall lie with the CRL Rights Commission”. Ultimate control of all religion will vest in the CRL (page 47 of CRL Report).
- “Umbrella Organisations” will be evaluated on whether (or not) their doctrine and practices are “acceptable”, which is a violation of Freedom of Religion
The primary task of the Peer Review Committee is to establish and license Umbrella Organisations, whose function is to provide specialist support, advice, oversight, governance and capacity building to churches. According to the CRL Report, the Peer Review Committee, in licensing an Umbrella Organisation applying for recognition, must take into account 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 [a member of this Umbrella Organisation] remains on a good spiritual path”.
It is therefore inevitable that the CRL will take decisions regarding the acceptability of doctrinal belief and expression. While not necessarily the intention of the CRL’s recommendations, the effect thereof will be that the State will have the ultimate power to silence any church or faith leader who teaches on matters which are deemed “unacceptable” by the State. This is especially concerning in light of global shifts in morality and ethics around matters such as corruption, morality, marriage, same-sex and transgender issues, family roles etc. This proposal is fundamentally opposed to the constitutional right to Freedom of Religion (page 46 of CRL Report).
- The CRL’s proposal is a violation of Freedom of Association
The CRL’s proposal insists that all religious practitioners and associated places of worship MUST belong to an Umbrella Organisation. This association is compulsory and without exception. It is therefore a violation of the right to Freedom of Association, since freedom to associate must include the right to choose not to associate. Failing to register - or continuing to practice as a Religious Practitioner if your license is refused or suspended - will likely be a criminal offence.
- The CRL will fund this structure by charging license fees, which will likely exceed one Billion Rand annual income
Given Parliament’s historic reluctance to increase the CRL’s budget, it is highly unlikely that it will be granted the funds necessary to finance the proposed regulatory structure out of the national fiscus. This leaves the religious community as the only likely source to fund this elaborate structure through payment to the CRL of license fees that will be required from every religious practitioner and place of worship. This revenue stream is estimated to exceed a billion Rand annually.
- The CRL has ignored submissions and alternative solutions proposed by the majority of the faith community in South Africa
The CRL has failed to take into account the serious concerns and objections submitted by faith communities throughout South Africa. Its proposal for compulsory licensing of all religious practitioners and places of worship is a complete overkill and does not even provide a viable solution for the issues and problems which their Report identified.
- The process followed by the CRL is deeply flawed, and unrepresentative of the religious community in SA
The CRL interviewed a “random sample” of only 85 religious practitioners before coming to the conclusions (and recommendations) detailed in its Report. Given that the broad and diverse religious community of South Africa has not been consulted on an issue which directly affects each and every one of them, the process followed by the CRL has been woefully inadequate.
ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS TO CRL’s PROPOSAL
- The CRL can (and should) refer complaints of abuses to the relevant authorities, so that the relevant laws can be enforced
FOR SA and many other churches and denominations have argued that there are existing laws already in place to deal with every “abuse” that the CRL has identified and these simply need to be enforced. For example, the “Prophet of Doom” was interdicted using existing law, and prohibited from spraying poisonous substances on people (or any similar action) or face time in jail.
The problem is the non-enforcement of existing laws, hence FOR SA’s recommendation for the CRL to set up a “rapid response unit” to alert the relevant authorities whenever it receives a complaint. There is also nothing prohibiting the CRL from reporting abuses to the relevant authorities, or going to court themselves.
- The CRL can (and should) play a leading role in ensuring that religious leaders and their organisations understand their legal obligations
Many of the issues identified in the CRL’s Report derive from a lack of compliance fueled by ignorance. The reality is that some religious practitioners simply do not know or understand the various aspects of the existing legal framework they need to comply with. A critical role of the CRL is therefore to educate, inform and indeed encourage, religious communities and institutions towards lawful and accountable behaviour.
The CRL can therefore play a valuable role in ensuring there is an improvement in the education and capacity building of the religious community. 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.
- The CRL can (and should) assist in the necessary consultation process needed to develop a “Code of Ethics”
FOR SA and other religious organisations have recommended a broad-based process of consultation with the aim of developing a “Code of Ethics” to identify and guide the behaviour, standards and processes that should be expected from a bona fide religious practitioner or religious organisation. Although subscription to this Code would be voluntary, it would define ethical benchmarks and certify individuals or organisations as being in compliance, thereby endorsing their adherence to these standards. The South African Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms (SACRRF), which is supported by over 22 million people from across the religious spectrum, already provides a foundation from which to develop such a “Code of Ethics”.
FOR SA is fully persuaded that the South African religious community is well able to self-regulate and to make the necessary adjustments to address the valid concerns expressed by the CRL’s Report. Our concern is that the CRL’s proposal clearly amounts to a power grab to capture the religious community and bring it under the control of the State. We need to be alert to the fact that if we lose our cherished freedoms, it is unlikely that they will ever be regained.