The Department of Basic Education (DBE) welcomed a ruling by the high court in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning that public schools could not promote one religion to the exclusion of others.
Last month an application by Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) was brought to the high court.
OGOD brought the application against six schools – Laerskool Randhart, Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Hoërskool Linden, Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Oudtshoorn Gimnasium – arguing that religious practices at these schools resulted in the suppression of scientific teachings of evolution, and a religious ethos that was a form of coercion and an abuse of learners’ rights.
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said in a statement that the ruling was consistent with the department’s own policy informed by the South African Schools Act and the constitution that no one religion should be promoted above another.
“The DBE did not oppose the relief sought by the applicants, however, monitored the case very closely, as it was always going to have an impact all public schools,” he said.
“The case was brought by [OGOD] against six schools and was opposed by Solidarity who represented the schools in question.”
Mhlanga quoted Judge Willem Van der Linde’s ruling that said that religious observances could be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that those observances followed rules made by the appropriate public authorities, that they were conducted on an equitable basis, and attendance was free and voluntary.
“The aim is not to ban religious practices in schools but about protecting children and emphasising that schools should engage in religion education rather than religious instruction and not promote one religion over another.”
The department said no change would take place as a result of this judgement, and it would continue to be business as usual, as the court merely reinforced and emphasized their existing policy in terms of religion in schools.
“The department will however study the judgement in detail. We remind school governing bodies, however, to review their rules to ensure that they are in compliance with legislation.”