Religion and education: what the OGOD judgement means

On June 28 the South Gauteng High Court delivered its long anticipated judgement on religion and education in public schools. In Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie v Laerskool Randhart and Others, Judge van der Linde, affirmed the principles of religious diversity and equality in public education.

In paragraph 102 of the judgement, van der Linde wrote:

(a) It is declared that it offends s.7 of the Schools Act, 84 of 1996 for a public school –
(i) to promote or allow its staff to promote that it, as a public school, adheres to only one or predominantly only one religion to the exclusion of others; and
(ii) to hold out that it promotes the interests of any one religion in favour of others. [1]

No public school may promote, or allow its staff or its School Governing Body to promote any public school as a Christian or ‘Christian ethos’ school, nor exclude a diversity of religious faith and diverse religious practices from any public school.

What does this mean for pupils and their parents who adhere to Pagan religions?

Practically, it means that no public school may prejudice pupils or discriminate against pupils who are members of non-Christian faiths.

This is not a new law at all. The requirement for equality in religion and education has been a legal requirement since 2006. School governing bodies have simply ignored the law, bolstered in part by the Department of Education at Provincial level who has essentially encouraged school governing bodies who have sought to entrench a single faith in certain public schools, by arguing that feeder communities for those schools are largely Christian.

In paragraph 96 of his judgement, van der Linde addressed this erroneous justification.

Third, accepting as one must, that the SGB rules must provide equitably for all faiths (given present and evolving future demographics), would the adoption of a single faith brand that excludes others not misrepresent the legally required position? That learners of all faiths are (should be) welcome? We think it would. [2]

The High Court’s reiteration of the guiding principle of equality does not end ongoing unlawful and prejudicial practices by many public schools. It is now up to every pupil, parents, and concerned NGO’s, to address every instance of contravention of the law by public schools and school governing bodies.

If your child attends a public school, review the school’s existing code of conduct. If you discover any infringement of the right to equality, contact SAPRA and we will endeavor to assist you in lodging a formal complaint in order to address the inequality.

[1] Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie v Laerskool Randhart and Others

[2] Ibid.

 

SAPRA ‘Your Rights’ Resource