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Organizations based in Durban – Faith have turned to the Johannesburg Supreme Court to demand that the religious sector be placed on an equal footing with casinos, health clubs, cinemas and restaurants that have gatherings of up to 50 people (indoors) and 100 people (outside) are permitted.
The South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) and Freedom of Religion in South Africa (FOR SA) said that while religious gatherings have been allowed again, it is possible that religious gatherings will be banned if Covid-19 is further banned. It also wants religious workers to be recognized as essential workers performing essential service.
Its application is supported by several churches and religious organizations, representing more than 11 million people, who believe that the ban is unfair discrimination against the religious sector and a gross violation of their constitutional right to religious freedom. It should be noted that religion enjoys even greater protection of the constitution than the economic sector.
“We believe that religious leaders who have been on the front lines of help, comfort and support to their communities during this pandemic should make the choice whether or not to open their venues for faith-based gatherings.” said Michael Swain, CEO of FOR SA.
“If a restaurant owner can be trusted to make that decision, why not a pastor, imam, rabbi, or priest?” said Swain.
Bishop Marothi Mashashane, president of the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF), welcomed the relaxation of regulations the day before the forum was due to negotiate its urgent ban in the Johannesburg Supreme Court. He said the forum’s request was based on inconsistent government regulations.
“You cannot prioritize gambling and entertainment over worship. For this reason, in our first part of our motion, we asked for the churches to be opened with immediate effect. In the second part, we would like the closing of the Christian congregation to be declared irrational and unconstitutional, and we ask the courts to issue an order directing the government not to make any announcements to the religious sector without first asking to consult the sector.
“We also asked the government to bring any minutes of meetings where decisions about churches were made without us, so we could know who they were consulting in the Christian sector,” added Mashashane.
He said they had written to the minister about the need for Easter meetings this year, saying that infections had been reduced when people took the vaccine: “We are pushing for the Easter conference to be allowed.”
Reverend Ian Booth, pastor of the United Congregational Church and interim coordinator of the Diakonia Council of Churches, believes the restrictions on religious gatherings were part of an effort to minimize the spread of the virus.
“The Church is about much more than just Sunday meetings and conferences. It’s about community and life in all its fullness. The work of the Church was not negatively affected by the restrictions, other than the ability to raise funds. “