Dur­ban churches ob­ject to new bill

Gay com­mu­nity warns against re­li­gious big­otry

The Star Early Edition - - POLITICS - NOSIPHO MN­GOMA

AGROUP of Dur­ban Chris­tian lead­ers say they will go as far as the courts to stop a law they be­lieve crim­i­nalises preach­ing against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and “im­moral­ity”.

The Min­is­te­rial Lead­ers for Chris­tian Rights, a vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tion of 100 church lead­ers, said the Preven­tion and Com­bat­ing of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill prej­u­diced the church.

They viewed it as “ef­fec­tively si­lenc­ing the church from speak­ing on sen­si­tive is­sues that af­fect their com­mu­ni­ties on a so­cial devel­op­ment and moral ba­sis”.

Spokesper­son Pas­tor Lazarus Pillay yes­ter­day said they ex­pected more than a mil­lion sig­na­tures on a pe­ti­tion they were sub­mit­ting to the min­istry of jus­tice ob­ject­ing to the bill, which was an­nounced by Jus­tice Min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha in Oc­to­ber last year.

Its pur­pose is to “give ef­fect to the con­sti­tu­tion and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­stru­ments con­cern­ing racism, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, xeno­pho­bia and re­lated in­tol­er­ance…”

How­ever, it fur­ther states that a per­son is guilty of hate speech if they in­ten­tion­ally com­mu­ni­cate, ad­vo­cate or are threat­en­ing or in­sult­ing to­wards an­other per­son or group based on race, gen­der or sex, which among oth­ers in­cludes in­ter­sex, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity.

“The Bible speaks against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. As much as we em­brace in­di­vid­ual con­sti­tu­tional free­doms, when it comes to the church, we ad­dress our con­gre­ga­tions based on the Scrip­tures and we are very con­cerned that that could be mis­in­ter­preted as hate speech,” said Pillay.

He said not be­ing able to speak against is­sues which “eroded the moral fi­bre of so­ci­ety” would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on churches, which aimed to guide peo­ple on liv­ing “up­right moral lives”.

Speak­ing for trans­gen­der rights group Gen­der Dy­namiX, Sivu Si­wisa said they recog­nised the role of the church in so­ci­eties and re­spected every­one’s right to re­li­gious be­liefs, as long as those be­liefs were not harm­ful or in­fringed on the rights of oth­ers to “ex­ist as who they are”.

“For re­li­gious lead­ers to preach ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as im­proper or un­ac­cept­able puts the lives of many LGBTIAPQ+ peo­ple at risk, and pro­motes and nor­malises hate and dis­crim­i­na­tion, which may di­rectly or in­di­rectly re­sult in hate crimes. In a coun­try like South Africa with a stag­ger­ing num­ber of LGBTIAPQ+ per­sons be­ing mur­dered be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity, it is im­por­tant to cau­tion re­li­gious lead­ers against pro­mot­ing hate and in­tol­er­ance in any way,” said Si­wisa.

A con­vic­tion for hate speech meant a fine and/ or a max­i­mum three years’ im­pris­on­ment for a first-time of­fence. The sen­tence for a sub­se­quent con­vic­tion could be up to 10 years.

Michael Swain, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Free­dom of Re­li­gion South Africa, de­scribed th­ese penal­ties as “dra­co­nian in their sever­ity”.

“The Bible and the Qur’an have clear texts that would be seen by the LGBTI com­mu­nity as dis­parag­ing. Who is to say what is ac­cept­able and what is of­fen­sive? That is very sub­jec­tive.”

Swain, how­ever, warned that re­li­gious free­dom should not be used as “a shield be­hind which to hide big­otry”. He also ques­tioned how ef­fec­tive the law would be in chang­ing the at­ti­tudes of so­ci­ety, say­ing the crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion had no re­demp­tive penalty but would rather have a po­lar­is­ing ef­fect.

This was echoed by Nonhlanhla Mkhize, an LGBTI ac­tivist and di­rec­tor of the Dur­ban Les­bian and Gay Com­mu­nity and Health Cen­tre.

“The chal­lenge is that the bill is at­tempt­ing to leg­is­late be­hav­iour. Of course it will be dif­fi­cult be­cause peo­ple are so­cialised to view the world in a par­tic­u­lar way. Re­li­gious lead­ers, too, are groomed with cer­tain ways of think­ing.”

She be­lieves the bill strikes a bal­ance be­tween their right to teach what is in their re­li­gious texts while – in ex­er­cis­ing that right – not ren­der­ing oth­ers to feel “small, ir­rel­e­vant or de­hu­man­ised, which un­for­tu­nately is what has been ex­pe­ri­enced by mem­bers of the LGBTI com­mu­ni­ties in churches”.

Mkhize is part of the gov­ern­ment- and civil so­ci­ety-led KZN task teams on hate crimes which met with re­li­gious lead­ers last year.

She said re­li­gious lead­ers could not ex­pect to scream “hate” and then use the pul­pit to ab­solve them­selves of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Chris­tian­ity and most re­li­gions speak against vi­o­lat­ing, caus­ing harm or de­hu­man­is­ing peo­ple, so the law is not ask­ing them to do any­thing new. It is just ask­ing them to be true to their own doc­trines which teach love thy neigh­bour, re­spect oth­ers and not to judge, be­cause only God can judge an­other per­son.”

The pe­riod for sub­mis­sion of com­ment on the bill has been ex­tended to Jan­uary 31.

Who is to say what is ac­cept­able and what is of­fen­sive? It’s very sub­jec­tive

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