FEDSAS acknowledges court decision on religion in schools
Public schools’ policy on and practice of religion must be on a fair, free and voluntary basis. These clear guidelines on religion in public schools were confirmed by the South Gauteng High Court earlier today. According to Judge Willem van der Linde public schools may not promote one religion to the exclusion of others.
This important test case has its origins in 2014 when the Organisasie vir Godsdienste-onderrig en Demokrasie asked the court to declare it unconstitutional that certain religious activities receive precedence over others. Six schools were named in the application. The governing bodies of the six schools are members of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) and FEDSAS assisted the schools in the court case.
“The court has confirmed that public schools may not promote a specific religion to the exclusion of others and that a public school may not hold that it promotes the interests of one religion. The court turned down most of the application. At the core of the judgement lies the fact that religion may form part of a school’s set-up but that it should take place within the framework of Section 15 of the Constitution,” says Mr Paul Colditz, CEO of FEDSAS. “From the outset FEDSAS has been clear that practicing religion in schools should be voluntary. However, FEDSAS was against the removal of any form of religious activities from schools. This decision is not similar to the America model of separation between church and state. Rather, it confirms the South African Constitution’s focus on tolerance and diversity.”
Colditz says FEDSAS will study the court’s decision and the implications thereof in order to allow FEDSAS members make informed decisions. “All decisions and activities of FEDSAS are guided by the Constitution. An important part of the FEDSAS aim of promoting quality education at public schools is to promote South Africans’ understanding of their constitutional rights. As respected education role-player, it is FEDSAS’ duty to assist its members, and by extension the children of our country, to navigate and appreciate the complete scope of our diverse society.”