Durban – Freedom of Religion South Africa (For SA) says the passing of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill would be a “destructive moment in the history of our democracy”.
Executive director Michael Swain also said there was “no empirical evidence” to suggest that preaching about homosexuality led to homophobic violence.
The organisation met religious leaders at the Durban Christian Centre on Tuesday, as part of a nationwide engagement programme this week.
Swain told a room of about 80 religious leaders that South Africa had adequate laws to deal with freedom of speech infringements, thus negating the need for the new Bill.
But KwaZulu-Natal-based LGBT organisations rejected these sentiments.
Swain told The Mercury that a link between preaching about homosexuality and acts of violence was a “myth”.
“I have not seen any empirical evidence that religious doctrine leads to direct harm. The church has a message of love – that is what Jesus taught.”
He said a study on the matter “must show that the church and its teaching of homosexuality has led to direct physical harm.”
He said the religious fraternity did not want to “water down” what they preached.
Swain welcomed criticism of church doctrine, but said it should not be subject to change because it offended people or groups.
He added that the definition of hate speech in the bill was too broad.
“Why do we need it (the bill)? We have the Equality Act, crimen injuria (charges), we have laws in place.”
Nonhlanhla Mkhize, director of Durban Lesbian and Gay Community and Health Care, said: “You find that discourse in religions incites severe hate speech insofar as ‘the other’ is concerned.
“That can be based on sexuality and race."
“If a person in leadership condemns a certain group and uses scriptures, it is influential.”
She added that current legislation did not articulate hate speech adequately, hence the need for the new bill.
Anthony Waldhausen, director at Pietermaritzburg-based Gay and Lesbian Network, said: “We find that when church and traditional leaders... make these (anti-gay) statements, you hear congregants supporting. They do incite violence.”
He said the new bill could allow charges for aggravating circumstances.
Durban pastor Gert van der Linde said pastors against the bill were too traditional in their thinking.
“In a modern society, you cannot infer that it (homosexuality) is a sin or is wrong.”
He believed preaching could incite violence. “When you say anything negative against homosexuals from a pulpit, it is considered to be true.”