While this isn’t as egregious a case as the News24 “news” (rather than opinion, or whatever) article on lockdown protests in Muizenberg was, the problems with Daily Maverick‘s piece on a new court challenge regarding right-to-die legislation extend beyond the clickbait headline, and merit brief comment. (As a disclaimer, I contributed columns to Daily Maverick between 2009 and 2013.)
South Africa will move to level 3 of our Coronavirus lockdown on June 1. More economic activity will be permitted, we can exercise anytime (within the curfew hours), buy alcohol, and attend religious services (in groups of 50 or fewer). We won’t be able to buy tobacco, even though the state’s case for this restriction is threadbare.
But even as the gradual resumption of something resembling normal life picks up pace, there sometimes seems little room for optimism. There are widespread riots in the USA after more black citizens were killed by police, and here at home, Collins Khoza is one of many who have been killed by overly zealous members of the police and army while enforcing their interpretation of lockdown.
When the Judicial Service Commission hearings on Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng were being held, I expressed significant doubts regarding his suitability for the role of Chief Justice. Among my concerns were his views on homosexuality, his reasoning in certain judgments related to sexual assault, and of course, his religious views and whether they would impact on his rulings.
The mosque murders in Christchurch on March 15, 2019 made me aware that New Zealand has a “chief censor”, which seems a somewhat quaint title in the 21st Century. It’s nevertheless true that someone (or some group of people) have to make determinations about when – if ever – something should be deemed unsuitable for public distribution, and the title of “chief censor” is at least unambiguous.
I’m not going to discuss if speech should ever be censored in this post, having addressed it on numerous prior occasions, for example here and here. To summarise my view, I regard free speech as a very important value, that should be among our top priorities, but I don’t think it always, or necessarily, trumps any other value.
South Africa has a “spiritual vampires” problem, to adapt Susan Gerbic and the Guerrilla Skeptic’s term (“grief vampires”) for people like John Edward, who claim to speak to the dead. But then, I suppose you could say that the whole world does, in that religious leaders who make a living off telling people things they themselves don’t actually believe can be found everywhere.
I’ve written about some of South Africa’s exploitative evangelists in the past, including Prophet (Detective) Lethobo and Penuel Mnguni, as well as about the CRL Commission’s investigation into harmful religious practices and whether they should be regulated.
In addition to her Private Members Bill on Advance Directives, which I wrote about earlier this month, Deirdre Carter of COPE has also been pushing for changes to the Civil Union Act, and I’m pleased to report that the Parliamentary committee meeting (15/08) seems to have gone well, with all present agreeing that Section 6 of the Act needs to be reconsidered.
Section 6, for those not familiar with the Act, is the clause that allows for Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials to opt-out of officiating same-sex marriages. It reads:
As much as being religious can interfere with peoples’ ability to think objectively about moral issues, it’s sometimes the case that antipathy to religion can do so, too.
The former problem arises because people can approach moral problems with unquestionable fundamental rules in mind, given to them by a divine force, and the latter because we should really only care about other people’s values when those values might result in harm, and not simply because we find them silly.
The verdict in the OGOD vs. 6 public schools case was handed down on June 28, with Judge van der Linde ruling that schools were not permitted to promote “one or predominantly one religion to the exclusion of others”.
In theory, then, the days of a school promoting themselves as having a “Christian character” should be over, with countless schools across the country now having to edit brochures, websites, and even coats of arms.
Earlier this month, as a runaway fire was claiming many lives and many houses in Knysna, Ivo Vegter* wrote a Daily Maverick column that lamented the fact that essential communication channels for disaster-relief were being used to offer prayers and other religious homilies.
Given that Ivo was himself dealing with the same threat to home and safety, and assisting with the relief efforts, it’s understandable that he thought the “emoticons of praying hands, or even entire prayers” shared over WhatsApp were getting in the way of more essential communication, and many Christians will agree with him on this.
Hans Pietersen has been working towards getting the matter of religious bias in South African public schools heard by the courts since 2009. This week, it finally happened.
OGOD is the name of the organisation he founded and chairs, and who brought the case to the Johannesburg High Court. But don’t let that bit of blasphemy in the name fool you. Even though there are many atheists in the organisation, their cause is a secular rather than atheist one, and as I’ve argued before, the difference is crucial.