'Banning religious practices will affect 24 000 schools'
Johannesburg – Trade union Solidarity argued on Tuesday at the Gauteng South Gauteng High Court the ruling of the application for the banning of religious practices in schools would affect 24 000 schools in South Africa.
“What the applicants are trying to achieve is to destroy the moral glue that glues South Africans together. The question is whether that which the applicants are seeking is in line with what ordinary South Africans want. Looking at the statistics, this is clearly not the case,” Solidarity Chief Executive Dr Dirk Hermann said.
The union said that the case was of major importance to hundreds of thousands of parents and children across the country. The application is requesting the court to ban religious practices at schools, which runs counter to the conviction of 95 percent of South Africans who identify themselves with a religion.
“There is no such thing as neutral education. In practice, the atheists who brought the matter before court want to enforce their belief on school communities. Even a secular approach constitutes a certain worldview that is to be enforced on school communities. Under the guise of inclusion their arguments the will of communities is being excluded," Hermann said.
According to Solidarity, religion and values are the elements that bring South Africans together across traditional divisions, while according to the South African Institute of Race Relations, 86 percent of South Africans identify themselves as Christians, and almost 95 percent identify with this faith.
Only 5.2 percent South Africans regarded themselves as non-religious or were not sure which religion they associate with.
The union said that the World Value Survey and the Pew Global Morality Study also found that social values united South Africans, with 83.9 percent regarding faith as important, 96.7 percent believing in God and 1.9 percent identified themselves as atheists.
Solidarity said that the application was essentially an undemocratic attempt by the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) to enforce what they described as "very narrow-minded" interests on school communities.
They argued as friend of the court in favour of the six schools whose religious practices were being challenged. The union said that it was constitutionally permissible and desirable that school communities decided on a school’s ethos and practices through their democratically elected governing bodies.
"If the application succeeds standard practices such as prayers at assembly, prayers at sports events, Christmas Carol performances by choirs, as well as a specific faith ethos would be banned," Hermann said.
"In thousands of schools those are the very values that unite children. In the long run, the absence of those values, practices and a certain ethos would have radical consequences for the culture at schools, and later also for South Africa.”
Hermann stated that in this case Solidarity was acting on behalf of teachers.
“Thousands of teachers are driven by their vocation, believing that children should not only be neutral individuals but that they should receive their education within the framework of a certain value system. It is for this very reason that they teach at schools where they can live their calling."