Vryheid van godsdiens : 'n ondersoek na historiese ontwikkelinge van die konsep, en die teologies-kerkregtelike posisie van die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk 1962 tot 2007
The central theme of this thesis is the historic unfolding of the concept of freedom of religion and its manifestation according to the canonical law of the Dutch Reformed Church since 1962. Two issues were considered, the first being the historic development of freedom of religion while the second issue concerns the status and understanding of freedom of religion since 1962 and the canonical implication for the Dutch Reformed Church between 1962 and 2007. The historic research into the origin of freedom of religion starts with the biblical view of the concept and gives a synopsis of the development until it reaches worldwide recognition as a fundamental constitutional right. Prior to the final understanding of the concept of freedom of religion, different forms and meanings were given to the concept. At first freedom of religion was historically developed and understood as a God-given right of every man. Later on, to protect the society from infringement of human and religious rights, it became necessary to establish freedom of religion worldwide as a recognized constitutional right. It is argued that freedom of religion is in fact the most fundamental right of all the human rights. The research shows the development of religious freedom in the Dutch Reformed Church between 1962 and 2007. From as far as 1652 the Christian religion was a privileged religion in South Africa. The privileged situation of the Dutch Reformed Church in its relation to the state made it unnecessary for them to discuss or define the concept of freedom of religion. Consequently the church gave silent consent to the state’s limited application of religious freedom. In and outside the church there was an ongoing debate that helped the church to formulate its role in religious freedom, which resulted in the document “Church and Society” (1986–1990). With the new Constitution of South Africa in 1996, a new situation developed for the Dutch Reformed Church as well as other churches. The church realized that it must define and take up its own legal position on religious freedom, which is guaranteed in the Constitution of South Africa. The church has the right to express their religious identity in a plural society. The relationship between church and state is expressed in matters such as conditions of employment, church property; matrimony, education, ordinances, religious organisation, etc. These are all issues of religious freedom that are guaranteed in the Constitution. The conclusion of this research will be helpful for churches and religious communities in their capacity of canonical as well as civil law. Religious communities must make optimum use of the provision made by the Constitution for freedom of religion.