The constitutionality of religious observances in South African public schools

Van Schalkwyk, Cecile (2016-12)

Thesis (LLM)--Stellenbosch University, 2016

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : The right to freedom of religion is one of the oldest of the internationally recognised freedoms and is entrenched in section 15(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (“Constitution”). It is the hallmark of an open and democratic society and provides everyone with the right to practise their religion in the public sphere and to manifest their beliefs by way of religious dress, teaching, or the conducting of religious observances. Section 15(2) of the Constitution makes specific provision for religious observances to be conducted at state and state-aided institutions provided that (a) those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities, (b) they are conducted on an equitable basis, and (c) attendance at them is free and voluntary. The Constitution has created a peculiar tension with the inclusion of section 15(2). On the one hand, it allows for the practice of religion in the public sphere, while on the other hand guaranteeing the right to religious freedom and freedom from religious coercion. In South Africa, religious observances are often conducted in the public school system. Public schools make provision for religious observances like prayer, worship, or the reading and interpretation of religious texts, while some schools even identify themselves as having a particular religious character or religious ethos. The South African Schools Act 84 of 1997 (“Schools Act”) delegates the power to determine rules on religious observances in public schools to the governing body of the school. In a country with a diverse citizenry it is often difficult for governing bodies to formulate rules that afford all learners an equitable right to religious observances, while being free from any religious coercion. What, from one perspective, would constitute a school community’s legitimate practice of their constitutionally guaranteed right to religion, might, from another, amount to a limitation of an individual learner’s right to be free to choose and practise his own religion or abstain from religious observances at all. The object of this study is to determine how the requirements for religious observances in state and state-aided institutions, as stipulated in section 15(2) of the Constitution and reiterated in section 7 of the Schools Act, must be interpreted within the context of public schools, to strike a constitutionally appropriate balance between the powers of school governing bodies and the right of learners to be free from religious coercion.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Die reg op vryheid van godsdiens is een van die oudste van die internasionaal erkende menseregte en is verskans in artikel 15(1) van die Grondwet van die Republiek van Suid-Afrika, 1996 (“Grondwet”). Dit is ’n kernbepaling in ’n oop en demokratiese samelewing en waarborg aan elkeen die reg om hul godsdiens in die publieke sfeer te beoefen deur middel van godsdienstige kleredrag, onderrig of godsdiensbeoefening. Artikel 15(2) van die Grondwet maak spesifiek voorsiening vir godsdiensbeoefening by staats- of staatsondersteunde instellings, mits (a) daardie beoefening reëls nakom wat deur die tersaaklike openbare gesag gemaak is, (b) dit op ’n billike grondslag geskied, en (c) die bywoning daarvan vry en vrywillig is. Die invoeging van artikel 15(2) in die Grondwet skep ’n besondere spanning. Aan die een kant maak dit voorsiening vir godsdiensbeoefening in die publieke sfeer, en aan die ander kant waarborg dit die reg op vryheid van godsdiens en om nie aan godsdienstige dwang onderwerp te word nie. In Suid-Afrika vind godsdiensbeoefening dikwels in openbare skole plaas. Hierdie skole maak voorsiening vir godsdienstige gebruike soos gebed, aanbidding, of die bestudering van religieuse tekste. Sommige skole neem selfs ’n bepaalde godsdienstige karakter of etos aan. Die South African Schools Act 84 of 1997 (“Schools Act”) delegeer die mag om reëls oor godsdiensbeoefening in die skool te maak aan die skoolbeheerliggaam. Dit is moeilik vir beheerliggame om in ’n diverse samelewing reëls te formuleer wat aan alle leerders ’n billike reg op godsdiensbeoefening gee, en terselfdertyd niemand aan godsdienstige dwang onderwerp nie. Vorme van godsdiensbeoefening wat, vanuit ʼn bepaalde perspektief neerkom op die uitoefening van ʼn skoolgemeenskap se grondwetlike reg op godsdiensvryheid, mag vanuit ʼn ander perspektief gesien word as ʼn skending van ʼn individuele leerder se reg om sy eie godsdiens te beoefen of geensins aan godsdiensbeoefening deel te neem nie. Die doel van hierdie studie is om te bepaal hoe die vereistes vir godsdiensbeoefening by staats- en staatsondersteunde instellings, soos bepaal deur artikel 15(2) van die Grondwet en artikel 7 van die Schools Act, uitgelê moet word om ’n gepaste grondwetlike balans te skep tussen die magte van skoolbeheerliggame en die regte van leerders om vry te wees van godsdienstige dwang.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100092
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