The Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency has suggested that legislation is needed to regulate those churches operating outside the law.

The committee was briefed by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) on the commercialisation of religion and the abuse and exploitation of people’s belief systems.

ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley today said that, “Church leaders operating outside of the law must face the full force of the law. It is unwise to paint everyone with the same brush when there are laws in place to deal with offenders.

“Although much of the religious sector would agree with the committee that the regulations and peer review mechanism as proposed by the CRL Commission will not work, they are concerned that in an effort to deal with criminals posing as religious leaders, the freedom of religious communities could be threatened and they would be open to discrimination and abuse of power”.

The committee has called on government to tighten legislation and to close churches, where necessary. Members of the committee said religious leaders have failed to take a stand against what has been happening in the churches, including the sexual abuse that takes place as the church works on a system of forgiveness.

The committee called on the CRL Rights Commission to prepare recommendations and submit them to relevant departments.

“We note the cautionary reminder that any intervention must be within the confines of the Constitution, bearing in mind that it enshrines freedom of religion for all South Africans”, Dudley said.

The committee recommended: a religious act; registration with a council within a regulatory framework and provision for a complaints procedure. They want to see municipalities enforcing by-laws, preventing churches from operating in areas not demarcated for religious services and shutting down churches with immediate effect. The committee also suggested that the South African Revenue Services (Sars) should ensure the collection of church revenues.

Responding to calls for the commission to engage with schools to educate and create awareness on the matter the chairperson for the CRL Rights Commission, Ms Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, said the commission is underfunded, which makes it difficult to conduct public education and awareness programmes.

As for Sars collecting revenue, Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the commission is engaging with Sars and looking into the possibility of a unit focusing on the religious sector.

Dudley said that, “A public participation process, is expected to be undertaken by the commission, and while this work can proceed the resulting recommendations may only to be dealt with in the 6th Parliament when public participation will begin afresh. We encourage stakeholders to be alert and ready to respond to any public process which could be initiated by the commission in the near future.”


ISSUED BY CHERYLLYN DUDLEY MP

31 October 2018