Ogod ruling: Fedsas calls for parents, community to become more involved in schools

Fedsas has also reiterated that it was against the removal of any form of religious activities from schools.

The federation was reacting to the ruling by the South Gauteng High Court, which confirmed public schools’ policy on and practice of religion, namely that it is must be on a fair, free and voluntary basis.

This important test case has its origins in 2014 when the Organisasie vir Godsdienste-onderrig en Demokrasie (Ogod) asked the court to declare it unconstitutional that certain religious activities receive precedence over others.

Six schools were named in the application, whereof one is Laerskool Baanbreker in Parkrand.

According to Judge Willem van der Linde, public schools may not promote one religion to the exclusion of others.

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In his judgement, van der Linde emphasised the fact that religion may be practiced at schools but within a specific framework, including the Constitution and the Schools’ Act.

At the core of the judgement is the fact that a specific religion may not be promoted at the exclusion of others.

The governing bodies of the six schools are members of Fedsas which assisted the schools in the court case.

“The court has confirmed that public schools may not promote a specific religion to the exclusion of others and that a public school may not hold that it promotes the interests of one religion,” said Paul Colditz, CEO of Fedsas.

“The court turned down most of the application. At the core of the judgement lies the fact that religion may form part of a school’s set-up but that it should take place within the framework of Section 15 of the Constitution.”

This decision is not similar to the America model of separation between church and state. Rather, it confirms the South African Constitution’s focus on tolerance and diversity.

“The judgement on religion in schools also serves as a renewed call to parents and the broader community to become involved in schools.

“In essence a public school belongs to the immediate community in which the school is situated. The school’s governing body is representative of this broader school community and has the authority through the Schools’ Act to make decisions regarding important aspects such as a school’s language and admissions policy as well as how religion is to be practiced at the school.”

Colditz said in the court application Ogod asked for some 77 orders against six schools. However, the court has only issued two of these orders.

He said Fedsas’ argument that governing bodies can determine the rules for religious observances in their schools in accordance with the Constitution and the Schools’ Act, was upheld.

“In practical terms the two orders that were issued are to the effect that a school cannot promote only one or predominantly one religion to the exclusion of others or advertise that it is such a school that does promote the interests of one religion in favour of others.

“A governing body can only be successful if the entire school community is involved. Parents have to take part in SGB elections and must hold the SGB accountable on decisions that could influence their children’s future,” said Colditz.

Colditz said the judgement has reconfirmed two core principles in Fedsas’ approach to school governance: “The first is that the Constitution is the highest authority against which decisions are measured. The second is that public education can only be successful if all role-players are involved.

Blaming the State for everything that goes wrong is simply to shift your responsibility. The success of schools influences the entire society, irrespective of whether you have children at school or not. The message is simple: Be involved in the public school in your community

Colditz said Fedsas will study the court’s decision and the implications thereof in order to allow Fedsas. members make informed decisions.

“All decisions and activities of Fedsas. are guided by the Constitution.”

He said an important part of the Fedsas aim of promoting quality education at public schools is to promote South Africans’ understanding of their constitutional rights.

“As respected education role-player, it is Fedsas’ duty to assist its members, and by extension the children of our country, to navigate and appreciate the complete scope of our diverse society.”

At the time of goin to print, Laerskool Baanbreker were still formulating a reply regarding the ruling.

  AUTHOR
Ischke de Jager
Journalist

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