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PRIVATE MEMBERS’ LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS AND SPECIAL PETITIONS: STANDING COMMITTEE
21 November 2007
GERBER’S LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO REPEAL CHURCH ACTS: DELIBERATIONS
Chairperson: Ms P Mentor (ANC)
Bible Society of South Africa (BSSA) Presentation to Standing Committee on Private Member’s Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions: 21 November 2007
Private Member’s Bills and Bills Initiated by a Committee
South African Law Reform Commission comment to Committee
Audio recording of meeting
The Bible society earnestly desired to work fully with the committee to reach a responsible decision. It requested the committee to either 1) not repeal Act 15 of 1970 or 2) to allow more time for in depth research into the best option for the BSSA to be incorporated or regulated without losing any present benefits such as income tax exemption. Transitional measures, without cost to BSSA, would need to be put in place if other options were to be implemented. They were asking for time to do that.
The Constitution required that the Legislature refrain from favouring one religion over others.
The committee agreed to the desirability of the repeal of all four proposed pieces of legislation with recommendations and the issues put by the Bible Society. Recommendations to include ensuring that their work was not hampered by loss of tax exemption and other benefits.
Gerber’s Legislative Proposal to repeal various Church-related Acts: Dutch Reformed Church Union Act, Apostolic Faith Mission Act, Methodist Church Act, Bible Society Of South Africa Act: Submission by Bible Society of South Africa (BSSA)
Ms Mentor informed the Bible Society that the Committee was considering the proposal of Mr Gerber. It would like to consider any issues that the Bible Society wished to propose, and would add recommendations to accommodate concerns as part of its report to Parliament. She reminded Members that there had been issues of transition that were of serious concern from the
Rev G Kritzinger, CEO: BSSA,, noted that the Bible Society earnestly desired to work fully with the Committee to reach a responsible decision. He requested the committee to either not repeal Act 15 of 1970; or to allow more time for in-depth research into the best option for the BSSA to be incorporated or regulated without losing any present benefits, such as income tax exemption. Transitional measures, without cost to BSSA, would need to be put in place if other options were to be implemented.
The Bible Society was an educational and religious organisation with the objects to translate, publish and distribute the Bible, without any dogmatic or doctrinal note, serving every Christian church in
Mr S Mshudulu (ANC) said that, with due respect, the Bible Society was not present at the last meeting when the approach was adopted that parties be given the opportunity to motivate briefly and to give time frames.
Ms Mentor reminded Mr Mshudulu that she would give some leeway because she did not wish to disturb their presentation.
Rev Kritzinger briefed the committee as to who the Bible Society was and what they did. It had translated the Bible into eleven official languages, was tasked with providing affordable Bibles, including those in Braille, and would provide Bibles free of charge to prisoners, as also to print in large print and recently on cell phones.
Rev J Mazibuko, Head: KZN Region, BSSA, addressed the Committee on the contribution to the challenge of literacy. Many people had learnt to read through the Bible. Because of the high levels of illiteracy in the country the New Testament had been recorded in seven of the official languages, and would go up to ten official languages in 2008.
Rev Kritzinger continued that apart from full Bibles, BSSA was addressing social challenges with booklets for HIV/AIDS sufferers, caregivers, women and employers. It made a major contribution to moral regeneration and promoting biblical values. Although it was politically neutral BSSA had produced the Book of Hope for many during the times of the struggle. It was governed by a National Board representing eleven Regional Boards.
Adv J van Rooyen, Legal Advisor to Bible Society, said that it was the BSSA’s view that the Act should not simply be repealed. The BSSA had vested rights in regard to income tax exemption and that was crucially important in helping to keep Bibles affordable. Transitional measures, without cost to BSSA, would need to be put in place if other options were to be implemented.
The Chairperson thanked the Bible Society for their presentation. She commented that the solar operated device was very innovative and could assist on the issue of Research & Development. She suggested the BSSA should work with the Department of Education to use it for study material.
The Chairperson noted that there were some aspects of the legal opinion that were of concern. There had been an argument that Parliament had granted more rights to the Christian than other religions. The essence of the proposal was that there should not be legislation for selective groups only on the Statute Books.
The Chairperson explained the complex Parliamentary process, and noted that even if this Committee were to agree to the merits of the proposal, it would still take another eighteen months to two years to repeal the legislation. That would give the BSSA ample opportunity to put another system in place. The Committee would incorporate into its recommendations all concerns that had been raised. She noted that even if this Committee agreed to the proposal, it would still be referred to another Committee, and those wishing to make submissions could do so again.
Mr G Magwanishe (ANC) agreed with the Chair that there were many other institutions that did not enjoy the status of being on the Statute Books and one religious organisation should not be favoured over another.
He confirmed the Chairperson’s remarks about referral to other Committees, noting that this could not be done this term. Even if the bill were repealed it would not take away any rights to make representation. Parliament could not give advantage to one institution and not the other.
Ms S Rajbally (MF) felt the Chairperson had given some assurance in terms of the time frame and asked the Bible Society to bear with the Committee on the time constraints.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) noted that the thrust of the legal opinion seemed to be based on the assumption that the proposed repeal of this legislation would undermine very good work. The Committee gave the Bible Society its assurance that whatever happened to the legislation the Committee would like to see BSSA’s work being continued, and any problems in terms of the repeal of the legislation and the vested rights would be fully addressed. The legal opinion had admitted that the repeal of this legislation would not affect property rights, but other rights, and asked what those other rights were.
Mr C Pauw, Attorney for BBSA, responded that these were rights presently available to the Bible Society via Section 30 of the Income Tax Act, for tax exemption. The Bible Society was concerned that there should be no void in terms of the time frames. Professor van Rooyen’s opinion could also be read somewhat differently; if there were constitutional imperatives, it would do no harm to let the legislation remain. If the Act was repealed then there must be full attention paid to the existing rights of tax exemption. There were routes to obtain the exemptions in another way, but it took time, and transitional arrangements must be in place to ensure that the BSSA was covered and that its work could carry on without interruption.
Ms Mentor assured BSSA that the Committee would underline the issue of tax exemption.
Ms Zuraya Adhikarie, Parliamentary Senior Legal Advisor, advised that BSSA could enjoy the same benefits as other welfare societies. They simply had to register.
The Chairperson emphasised again that the Committee would incorporate in its recommendations the need to ensure that the tax exemption remained.
Submission of the
Mr P van Wyk, Researcher, SA Law Reform Commission, said the Commission was requested to draft a report dealing with the specific churches, and he had submitted that to the Committee Secretary. The constitutionality of the repeal was quite complex. He cited the
”In my view the requirements of the Constitution require more of the Legislature than that it refrain from coercion. It requires in addition that the Legislature refrain from favouring one religion over others. Freedom and even handedness in relation to diverse religions is a necessary component of freedom of religion.”
Judge Sacks had noted that ”The objective of Section 14 is to keep the State away from favouring or disfavouring any particular world-view, so that, even if politicians as politicians need not be neutral on these questions, legislators as legislative drafters must.” He later added ”By endorsing a particular faith as a direct and sectarian source of values for legislation binding on the whole nation, it exceeds the competence granted to it by the Constitution. Even if there is no compulsory requirement to observe or not to observe a particular religious practice, the effect is to divide the nation into insiders who belong, and outsiders who are tolerated. This is impermissible in the multi-faith, heterodox society contemplated by our Constitution.”
A Chaskalson, in the reference work Constitutional Law of South Africa pointed out that ”It is not clear from the various judgements in Solberg precisely what the attitude of the Court would be as regards ‘accomodationism’. However, the analyses of O’Regan and Sachs JJ display an awareness of the need to tolerate the state involvement with religion, while at the same time restricting displays of state favouritism.”
Mr van Wyk indicated that the Law Commission’s suggested options for the Bible Society would be to apply in terms of Section 30 of the Income Tax Act for tax exemption; and to register as a Non-Profit Organisation under Act 71 of 1997.
The Chairperson thanked the Bible Society for the work they were doing, also for their work on literacy. She herself had learned three African languages from the Bible, and confirmed that it was a useful literacy tool.
The Chairperson suggested that the Committee draft a motion of desirability to repeal all four proposed pieces of legislation. However, it would incorporate in that recommendation the need to deal with all concerns raised by the groups who had made submissions to the Committee, including those made this morning. She asked Mr van Wyk and Mr Magwanishe to assist in drafting the recommendation. The Bible Society would be given a copy.
The Chair again emphasised that when the Justice Committee began the process of the actual repeal, this Committee’s report to Parliament would bind them to hearing the Bible Society concerns again.
The meeting was adjourned.
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