The Sunday Independent

Sec­u­lar rights trump re­li­gious free­doms


IT IS NOT with the learned judge, Dik­gang Moseneke, that I take is­sue (“The right to dif­fer re­li­giously”, Sun­day In­de­pen­dent, Oc­to­ber 24), but with the per­ni­cious doc­u­ment he dis­cusses, The Char­ter of Re­li­gious Rights and Free­doms.

The disin­gen­u­ous ti­tle of this text is a good ex­am­ple of lo­go­cide: the mur­der­ing of words. The very no­tions, rights and free­doms, are an­ti­thet­i­cal to the re­li­gious en­ter­prise. Re­li­gion’s char­ter is pred­i­cated on un­ques­tion­ing obe­di­ence to mind­less dogma.

Judge Moseneke is acutely sen­si­tive to the dan­ger this char­ter poses to our democ­racy: “Most of the pro­vi­sions of the char­ter may ap­pear un­con­tro­ver­sial, and yet as a sit­ting jus­tice of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court mo­ments may present them­selves when I may be duty bound to prof­fer ju­di­cial opin­ion on the re­mit or im­pact of its pro­vi­sions… I am thus hon­our bound to keep an open mind on the con­sti­tu­tional ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of its pro­vi­sions.”

This far-too-nu­anced re­sponse will have no ef­fect on the clergy who, rightly, see their hege­monic stran­gle­hold over the peo­ple threat­ened by the bill of rights. Thus the need for a spu­ri­ous doc­u­ment os­ten­si­bly pro­tect­ing the peo­ple – while it is pre­cisely against the clergy and their bla­tantly un­con­sti­tu­tional doc­u­ment that pro­tec­tion is needed.

Judge Moseneke gets to the essence: “The 1910 con­sti­tu­tion pro­claimed that South Africa was a Chris­tian nation. Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for racial, gen­der and eco­nomic ex­clu­sion was sourced from the scrip­tures.” And such jus­ti­fi­ca­tions still ex­ists in the scrip­tures, which are sat­u­rated in hate speech and un­fair dis­crim­i­na­tion. It is against these sorts of toxic abuses of hu­man rights that the bill of rights is an an­ti­dote.

What the clergy must be made to un­der­stand is that… when the ex­er­cise of a re­li­gious right causes harm, as it so of­ten does, it will be quashed by the sec­u­lar right it in­fringes.

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