Religion in schools breeds good morals, high court told

Johannesburg - Even non-religious parents are attracted to a school’s religion policy because it breeds good moral values, the High Court in Johannesburg has heard.

Religious practices at schools exposed children to moral values which they would not have learnt otherwise. It was extremely important for pupils’ moral development, Johan du Toit, for six schools and the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), argued, Netwerk24 reported on Tuesday.

Interviewed pupils

The Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (Ogod) wants the court to declare the religion policy of Randhart Primary School in Alberton, Baanbreker Primary School in Boksburg, Garsfontein Primary School in Pretoria, and Linden High School in Johannesburg unconstitutional.

The ministers of basic education and justice, the National Organisation of School Governing Bodies and six schools are respondents in the matter.

Du Toit said a school’s governing body and parents decided what the schools’ ethos would be. Even non-religious parents could appreciate the moral values their children learnt in schools.

Du Toit read a sworn statement by Dr Tanya Robinson, a family therapist who interviewed pupils at the six schools. She found an atmosphere of common respect and tolerance towards non-religious pupils.

Non-Christians told Robinson they did not feel forced to take part in religious practices and that there was no discrimination against them.

Declaring the practice of religion in schools unconstitutional would have a “considerable effect” on pupils across the country. Most pupils had a “strong relationship” with religious practices, Du Toit said.

The overwhelming majority of pupils told Robinson they needed religion and that it helped them handle problems.

State-funded schools

HB Marias, for Ogod, on Monday said the intention was not to have all religious practices banned from schools. Pupils could still, for example, have religious gatherings on school property after school hours.

“The school may just not promote religion; it has to come from the learners”.

Stellenbosch small business owner Hans Pietersen brought the case after one of his triplets returned home from school one day wearing a “Jesus Week” band.

“They wanted everybody to wear armbands for Jesus, which immediately exposes everybody who is not part of those efforts,” Pietersen explained.

He said he was not anti-religion, but believed state-funded schools should not promote or embrace it.

He was adamant that although teachers had a right to believe in the Christian theory of creation, they could not let this undermine the teaching of the scientific theory of evolution.

He believed some public schools were suppressing scientific and cultural knowledge; engaging in religious coercion and abusing pupils' Constitutional rights to freedom of belief, privacy, and equality.

The matter continues.