Basic education welcomes court ruling on religion in public schools

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The six schools that the application was brought against were Laerskool Baanbreker, Laerskool Garsfontein, Laerskool Randhart Hoërskool Linden, Hoërskool Oudtshoorn and Oudtshoorn Gimnasium, but the ruling affected all public schools.

This comes after the Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (Ogod), represented by Section 27, sought a court order declaring six public schools in Gauteng and the Western Cape to be in violation of the Constitution and the national policy on religion and education.

Despite the dismissal of the interdictory relief sought by OGOD‚ the court said it was concerned about the issue of single faith branding‚ or that of holding out that a public school endorsed one particular religion to the exclusion of others.

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"The court said if the schools have (religious) observances‚ they should be conducted in accordance with the rules set by the school governing bodies".

"We have found that neither school or SGB [school governing body] can say they subscribe to a specific religion", van der Linde said.

"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".

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Advocate Hendrik van Nieuwenhuizen, for OGOD, said it is in the interests of South African democracy that public schools are not allowed to promote a particular religion, but that the choice of religion lies with pupils. He encourage public dialogue in this regard and said there was a need to celebrate diversity.

They want the schools to retain their religious ethos.

He ruled that religious practices could be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that such acts followed rules made by the appropriate public authorities and were conducted on an equitable and voluntary basis.

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