Constitutional Freedoms

Cause Update : Protection of Free Speech (Hate Speech Bill)

The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services (a committee of the National Assembly) published a call for public comments on the amended version of the Bill on 26 November 2018 (which was open until 31 January 2019, then extended to 15 February 2019).

CFJ delivered submissions on the amended Bill during February. The fifth Parliament has since ceased to exist, leaving the Bill in limbo and dependent on the sixth Parliament’s mandate – whether to take it forward or shelve it for the time being.

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Cause Update : Protecting Freedom of Conscience (Civil Union Amendment Bill)

After its introduction in the National Assembly (First House of Parliament) on 15 May 2018, the Civil Union Amendment Bill (“the Bill”) seemed to steamroller through Parliament despite an overt lack of adequate public consultation.

The Bill seeks to remove the “conscientious objection clause” which protects the constitutional rights to freedom of conscience, religion and belief of state-employed marriage officers. It is important to understand that the purpose of the clause is to protect and promote fundamental rights and not to discriminate. The principles and values of a constitutional democracy require that the rights of all people are promoted and protected. When in conflict, competing right must be carefully balanced to ensure the maximum enjoyment and minimum infringement of each.

In our written submissions to Parliament, CFJ proposed practical and cost effective solutions that would protect both conscientious objectors and same sex couples. However, on 8 December 2018 the National Assembly adopted the Bill without including any of our proposed solutions. In an alarming disregard for the right to be able to live in accordance with one’s sincerely held religious beliefs within the public sphere (no doubt affecting millions of religious South Africans), most political parties voted in favour of the Bill.

The Bill was due to proceed to the Select Committee on Social Services of the National Council of Provinces (Second House of Parliament). However, all the scheduled meetings where the Committee would have worked on the Bill were postponed indefinitely.

The Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the current Parliament and, if it is to be proceeded with, will need to be re-introduced in the next Parliament. CFJ will keep a close eye on any post-election developments.

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