Churches to fight parliament over scrapping of laws

Well done to ANC MP Pierre-Jean Gerber for trying to get rid of laws that give special privelages to a few groups with no justification whatsoever.

My comments at the end of the article (Probably not going to be read by anyone!) -
“It is about time. Churches and other religious organisations should not be given special treatment or governed by special legislation because they are religious. The legislation that applies to them relating to tax, and other exemptions, should be based on what they do for society and not because they are a religious organisation. Non-profit organisations doing good work that benefits society should all be equally governed by, and benefit from, the same legislation.”

The linked-to article in The Times doesn’t really cover what the legislation targeted for repeal is all about. Here’s a more detailed overview of what this proposal entails, dated almost a year ago. It seems that Pierre-Jean Gerber is rather more interested in collecting some political brownie points than he is in substantively addressing the undeserved privileges enjoyed by churches. The original’s in Afrikaans, but here’s a translation (suggestions for improvements are invited):

Old church law must go
Thursday, November 08, 2007

The last of a series of old apartheid laws concerning churches will probably shortly be scrapped from the South African statute books by parliament.

Mr Pierre Jean Gerber, child of a preacher and ANC MP, has submitted a private law proposal to parliament to request the repeal of discriminatory legislation that dates from 1911. Among other things, the law makes it possible for the NG Church to exclude people from membership based on their race. Mr Gerber told Kerkbode (Church Herald, a religious newspaper) that although it is presently unlawful according to the country’s new constitution to discriminate against people based on colour, and although the church’s membership has already long been open to all races, the repeal of the law offers the NG Church a unique opportunity for sending a positive message, especially in light of the criticism the NG Church has had to endure this last year.

The law that Mr Gerber wants to have repealed was enacted shortly after the establishment of the Union (of SA) when the four provinces became a union under the British flag. This gave the NG Church in the former four provinces the right to merge. Members who were not white could not as a result of this law remain members of the NG Church if they went to live in one of the other provinces. Such members would automatically lose their NG membership in another province if they relocated.

The four provinces’ synods only became a single church in 1962 subject to another law of 1961. The repeal of 1961 rescinded most of the old race-based NG Church laws. It remains a puzzle why Act 23 of 1911 was not also revoked by the 1961 repeal law. Although the 1911 law was never applied, it remained on the statute books after all these years.

In its submission to parliament, the NG Church welcomes the repeal of the 1911 law. Dr Ben du Toit of the church’s parliamentary desk says that although the church supports the repeal thereof, the aspects cited by Mr Gerber for scrapping of the law are irrelevant.

Mr Gerber mentions inter alia that he wants to get rid of the law in order to simplify the unification process of the NG family of Churches.

Dr du Toit says that the church does not deny that the law in question is discriminatory, but it has little to do with the current unification process and therefore Mr Gerber’s motivations are without relevance.

Mr Gerber says he is pleased that the NG Church agrees to the scrapping of the law but that it is a pity that the church is trying to shoot down the reasons, seeing as they are still relevant in his view.

“Act 23 of 1911 is still on the statute books and it makes no difference how absurd and unconstitutional it is, it is still in force. As a result of the law, a member who does not reside in the Western Cape can technically still make an objection if someone of colour wishes to become a NG member in that province – even if that is no longer the church’s policy. It could take months for the constitutional court to decline such an objection,” said Mr Gerber.

According to Mr Gerber, his suggestion to scrap the law is a proactive step and by no means an attack on the NG Church. “The NG Church was, is and never will be subjected to an inquest by the parliamentary committee. We are here to build a South African nation and we will not permit that our nation is polarised any further.”

Mr Gerber told Kerkbode that for him the issue is an emotional and prayer question, and he hopes the NG Church will use the opportunity positively because it could be a win-win situation for everyone if it is handled correctly.

But, yes, I agree that it’s high time to put an abrupt stop to this nonsense of granting special dispensations to organisations that pretend to look after people’s “spiritual” affairs.