Originally posted on : South African Secular Society
South Africa is a declared secular state, meaning that there is a legal separation of “church” and state, made up of law, policy and legislative practices enforcing that no governmental institution (including schools) are either affiliated, or influenced by any religion. Even so, the current level of religious involvement in South African Public schools is at an epidemic level. In a predominantly Christian society, the number of schools proclaiming a Christian “ethos” and practising various ‘flavours’ of their religion as part of normal school operation is alarming; despite this being expressively illegal and unconstitutional.
The Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (OGOD) has undertaken legal action against six public schools in South Africa, with the aim of removing religion from their official school practices, policy and documentation. OGOD promotes factual education about religious and democratic values – They advocate for secularity in schools and aim to ensure public schools are not used to advance sectarian or the religious interests of particular groups. With their legal action against these six schools, OGOD doesn’t aim to create new law, but rather enforce what is already ascribed in the National Education policy and Constitution of South Africa. But, as this is a contentious issue, the response has been less than reasoned. Christians and various Christian organisations have come out in public framing this as an attack on their beliefs and freedom of religion.
The reality is, though Christianity is seen as a religion as a whole, it is divided into thousands of disparate denominations with many varied practices; some distinctly opposed to each other. As many schools proclaim their religious “ethos”, the question of which denomination, is more important than the specific religion. Would Seven Day Adventist parents really feel comfortable with their children attending a public school practising according to the Roman Catholic church? If that meant in every way adhering to Catholic dogma? Or as a Muslim parent having your children excluded from certain classes or activities?
This is not an issue for only the non-religious in South Africa, this affects all citizens and every child’s right to not be discriminated against for anything. When exclusionary practices are phrased as if they respect someone’s rights, like – “You don’t have to participate, you can leave the classroom while we do bible study”, it reminds us all too well of the days of apartheid and segregation.
Secularism isn’t about attacking religion, it’s aim is to see that everyone can enjoy their rights without creating exclusionary practices where the no group can impose their views.