Constitutional Court File picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse/ANA Picture

Cape Town - Religious organisations are spoiling for a fight all the way to the Constitutional Court if legislation is passed to regulate religion.

One such organisation is Freedom of Religion South Africa, which said it would be take the matter of licensing religion to the Constitutional Court, if an amendment of the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Act (CRL) is signed into law.

This comes after the CRL Rights Commission released a report on how it proposes to regulate religion. The CRL is a Chapter 9 organisation, which protects the rights of communities to practise their religion, culture and language.

Michael Swain, executive director of the organisation, said: “If the CRL Amendment is passed, the commission will be able to regulate religion in South Africa.”

During the CRL Rights Commission’s hearings on commercialisation of religion it found that people were expected to pay substantial amounts of money before they are prayed for and get blessings.

“People can swipe their bank cards at speed points during ceremonies.

“Some churches are not registered either with the Department of Social Development or with Sars. We recommend that religious communities regulate themselves more diligently to be in line with the constitution and the law,” the report reads.

It further states that it recommends that there is a Peer Review Council, “which will consist of peers from each religion that will give permission to operate, to individual religious leaders. There must also be committees of each religion. Each religion would then have accredited umbrella organisations that are associations, which will recommend the licensing of individual institutions and individual practitioners.”

Swain said: “Our organisation also made recommendations to the CRL Rights Commission, but it was not included in the report. We represent six million people and all different denominations and we are very concerned about it. This proposal is also unconstitutional because there is freedom of religion. We are against people eating grass, but there are other laws for that. Their proposals are not supported by a sound and convincing scientific investigation. Only a random sampling of 85 religious practitioners and institutions. It is unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

The CRL Commission set up and ad-hoc commission after reports of pastors feeding congregants grass and snakes, spraying them with insecticide and making them drink petrol.

Isgaak Taliep, secretary-general of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) said, “The MJC welcomes regulation as long as it is done by religious authorities themselves to ensure that we condone legitimate religious practices and outlaw illegitimate practices done in the name of religion."

Joshua Hovsha, director of the Jewish Board of Deputies in Cape Town, said: “Today it is our task to respect and defend our hard-won constitutional order. We understand no one is above the law. All religious institutions must abide by South African law and respect our constitutional principles.”

The Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms (CRRF) has distanced itself from the main proposals in the CRL Rights Commission report. Chairperson Pieter Coertzen said it deplored incidents of abuse in the name of religion, but state regulation and control of religion was not the appropriate way to combat such abuses.

Dr Mathole Motshekga, chairperson of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa, said: “South Africa is a spiritually and religiously diverse society.”

Cape Argus