In 1959, Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed suit in the United States on behalf of her son who was forced to attend Bible readings in his school and was the victim of harassment at the hands of school employees after he declined to participate.
O’Hair then went on to found the American Atheist organisation in 1963 which fights to protect the absolute separation of religion from government.
The 2017 film, The Most Hated Woman in America, chronicles Madalyn’s life and death.
On 28 June 2017, the South African Department of Basic Education welcomed the judgement handed down in the South Gauteng High Court that public schools cannot promote one religion.
“This ruling is consistent with the department’s own policy informed by South African Schools Act and the Constitution that no one religion should be promoted above another,” the department said on Wednesday. It added that it will study the judgement in detail.
The case was brought by the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy (OGOD) against Solidarity who represented the six schools in question.
OGOD argued that there’s religious bias in South African public schools while the trade union Solidarity – which represents the six schools the case was brought against – urged that the Constitution allows public schools to identify with one religion and promote it.
The DBE did not oppose the relief sought by the applicants.
Handing down the judgment Judge Van der Linde said: “Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that A) Those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities; B). They are conducted on an equitable basis; and C). Attendance at them is free and voluntary”.
The department has reiterated that the aim of the ruling 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.
“No change will take place as a result of this judgement and it will continue to be business as usual for DBE as the court merely reinforced and emphasized our existing policy in terms of religion in schools.”
The department reminded School Governing Bodies to however review their rules to ensure that they are in compliance with the legislation. – SAnews.gov.za
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