Pagans say no to ‘regulation of religion’ proposal

According to the preliminary report of the CRL Commission following the hearings on ‘Commercialization of Religion and abuse of peoples belief systems’, the Commission has proposed that all religion and religious organizations in South Africa should be regulated by legislation.

According to section 18 of the report:
• The Religion must have a Religious Text that has a defined origin or an origin proved so ancient that no one alive can remember the true origin.*
• The Religion should have a significant number of followers that believe in and that adhere to the tenets of the faith.*
• Religious peer review committees must represent the whole religious community and not just a portion of the religion. 
• A General Religious Practitioner, being a person that imparts knowledge of the tenets of the faith to a gathering of worshipers, shall be required to obtain a license to operate. [0]

Several polls conducted on social media in response to the report indicate that South African Pagans generally oppose the idea that Pagan religions should be regulated by law.

Case Law

In Prince v President of the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope (CC) 2002, the Constitutional Court held:

“[38] This Court has on two occasions considered the contents of the right to freedom of religion.4[4] On each occasion, it has accepted that the right to freedom of religion at least comprehends: (a) the right to entertain the religious beliefs that one chooses to entertain; (b) the right to announce one’s religious beliefs publicly and without fear of reprisal; and (c) the right to manifest such beliefs by worship and practice, teaching and dissemination.4[5] Implicit in the right to freedom of religion is the “absence of coercion or restraint.” Thus “freedom of religion may be impaired by measures that force people to act or refrain from acting in a manner contrary to their religious beliefs.”4[6] ” and “[42] In the absence of credible evidence to the contrary, the allegations made by the appellant which have not been disputed must be accepted. Apart from this, as a general matter, the Court should not be concerned with questions whether, as a matter of religious doctrine, a particular practice is central to the religion. Religion is a matter of faith and belief. The beliefs that believers hold sacred and thus central to their religious faith may strike non-believers as bizarre, illogical or irrational. Human beings may freely believe in what they cannot prove. Yet, that their beliefs are bizarre, illogical or irrational to others or are incapable of scientific proof, does not detract from the fact that these are religious beliefs for the purposes of enjoying the protection guaranteed by the right to freedom of religion. The believers should not be put to the proof of their beliefs or faith. For this reason, it is undesirable for courts to enter into the debate whether a particular practice is central to a religion unless there is a genuine dispute as to the centrality of the practice.” [1]

The issues raised as concern by the CRL Commission do not dispute the Constitutional Court’s findings on freedom of religion. The Constitutional Court has demonstrated that the right to religion may only be limited in so far as religious acts may be illegal (in the case of Prince, the use of cannabis), but the Constitutional Court has said nothing about whether legislative regulation of religion in general would be constitutional or not.

Certainly, no legislation could reasonably deny the right to any citizen to identify what he/she believes is his/her ‘religion’, even if it did not meet the *criteria suggested by the CRL Commission. To deny any person the right to define their own religious beliefs or religious identity would be inconsistent with the Constitutional Court’s collective decisions on the question of what constitutes religion, religious identity or religious belief (Prince v President above).

SAPRA would argue that government has no place regulating religion! Sufficient legislation exists with which to deal with the most important issues raised by the CRL Commission, including regulations pertaining to the registration of Non-Profit ‘Public Benefit’ Status, tax and criminal law. The fact that some churches interviewed by the Commission have failed to obey these laws is not sufficient reason for new law, but rather reason to enforce existing laws more strictly.

SAPRA therefore opposes the CRL Commission’s proposal to regulate religion, religious organizations and religious practitioners. SAPRA further encourages all South African Pagans to ensure that in their practice of their faith, they observe the laws of the land and act responsibly and ethically towards other citizens.



[0] Preliminary-Report-of-the-hearings-on-Commercialization-of-Religion-and-abuse-of-peoples-belief-systems.pdf

[1] Prince v President of the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope (CC) 2002



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