Schools on Trial in Johannesburg for Giving Christian Education

Wikimedia Commons/Janek SzymanowskiA photo of the Supreme Court building in Johannesburg.

Johannesburg's Supreme Court has decided that religious practices in schools are important for children's moral development. The High Court reached its conclusion after hearing a motion to impose an injunction on six Afrikaans schools for promoting Christian ethos, using Christian logos and holding Bible assemblies.

The motion was filed in 2014 by the chairman of Organization for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) Hans Pietersen who wanted to uphold secular values in public schools. He argued that promoting a single religion was unconstitutional and discriminatory to students of other faiths.

Pieterson also pointed out that the schools' actions undermined the constitutional right to equality, News 24 reported. While teachers have a right to believe in the Christian theory of creation, they could not let this undermine the teaching of the scientific theory of evolution, he said.

The schools denied they violated the law. On the contrary, section 15 of the Constitution allows the public expression of religion in state institutions provided that these religious observances are voluntary. Section 31 promotes diversity and pluralism in society through religious tolerance.

The schools presented the result of a survey done by Dr. Tanya Robinson, an expert in human behavior, which showed that children liked having religion at school as it helped them handle problems. The poll also bred that even non-religious parents appreciated the moral values their children learned in religion class.

"Each system is exclusionary," argued Paul Colditz' the CEO of Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools. "If you make a school become secular' it is discriminatory against learners who want a Christian or Muslim school. If you have Muslim or Christian school' it is discriminatory against those who want a secular school," he added.

Greta Engelbrecht, an advocate of Cause for Justice, likened a Christian meeting to a voluntary chess club which didn't violate the rights of non-players. The court ruled that OGOD failed to prove that schools broke the law. The hearing concluded with all parties agreeing that any attendance of a Christian assembly must be voluntary.