Committee Report on CRL Rights Commission Report on Regulation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs

 

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

30 January 2018

Chairperson: Mr R Mdakane (ANC)

Audio
Committee Report on CRL Rights Commission Report on Regulation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs

Documents handed out: 
Committee Report on CRL Rights Commission Report on Regulation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs  [available under Tabled Committee Reports once published in ATC]

Meeting Summary

The Committee met to discuss its own report based on the CRL Rights Commission Report on the regulation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs.

It noted that there would always be those against the regulation of religion which was an ideological debate; however it was important that Government intervene when communities were being adversely affected by some religious practices. Additionally there had been dispute about the sampling of the consultation by the CRL commission from the stakeholders that had attended the hearings held in Parliament.

The Committee observed that there had been extensive disagreement about the constitutionality of the recommendations put forward by the CRL Commission. The Committee had also been presented with a charter of religious rights which had been adopted by a number of religious organisations which had addressed some of the concerns and had indicated an attempt to self regulate.  That had led to a call that religious organisations had to constitute a forum which would bring forth how they envisaged to self regulate and to present that to the Committee. 

The Committee recommended that government had to strengthen existing legislation; specifically the Non-Profit Organisations Act 71 of 1997, Income Tax Act both of which applied to religious organisations. Government had to also push for registration of religious bodies as NPOs and enforce that NPO Act; which required that religious organisations to submit the financial statements and constitutions and changes in their leadership structures. Members further recommended that the Commission organises a national consultative conference and that the religious organisations could be approached for fundraising purposes. From the national consultative conference the religious sector had to develop a code of conduct for religious bodies and that had then to be recognised in terms of the law and that could be done through the NPO Act in liaison with the Department of Social Development (DSD).

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson welcomed members and all staff and outlined the agenda for the day. He maintained that the meeting was a discussion on the report of the CRL Rights Commission which investigated the regulation of religion and abuse of peoples’ belief.

 Committee Report on CRL Rights Commission Report on Regulation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs

Mr A Masondo (ANC) noted a numbering error in the report.

Mr K Mileham (DA) said there was a challenge with a paragraph in the committees report regarding the CRL commissions proposed amendment. He proposed that the CRLs opinion be clarified to be its opinion and not the Committees; regarding the introduction of regulation of religion.

Mr Masondo said that it had to be noted that there would always be those against regulation of religion which was an ideological debate and that it was important that Government intervene when communities were being adversely affected by some religious practices. 

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) said that the report had to acknowledge that not the entire religious sector had been consulted in the CRL investigations and drafting of the report, as there were denominations that were not under any religious association or council.

Mr Mileham said that there had been dispute about the sampling of the consultation by the CRL Commission and the Committee had to factor that in.

Mr Mthethwa disagreed with Mr Mileham that his point was regarding acknowledgement by the CRL Commission and not disputing the investigation and consultation.

The Chairperson said that indeed there had been complaints about the breadth of consultation and that sometimes even officials from the same religious association or council would disagree about being consulted but that the nature of consultation was that not everyone who was consulted would concur, especially if the consultations had not resulted in their sentiments being agreed to or being findings of the investigations.

Mr Mthethwa said that the point of proper structures under the findings, in terms of officials responsible in churches for particular portfolios, had to be raised sharply and there was no comprehensive database of registered religious institutions. Additionally the lack of participation of women in leadership positions in churches had also been raised.

The Chairperson said in interviews he had been following he had picked up that SARS had wanted to intervene where religious associations or organisations had been found to be dodging taxes under being religious bodies when they were in fact businesses. He called for SARS to be supported in its call to investigate and deal with such cases. He emphasised the need for a database or records archive for religious bodies. Therefore indeed lack of financial management and governance structures had been raised in the CRL report.

Ms N Mthembu (ANC) agreed with Mr Mthethwa about the lack of participation of women in leadership positions in churches as a point which had been raised.

Mr Masondo said that cult like religious organisations was a global phenomenon though it seemed to be new in South Africa (SA) as the phenomenon had affected North America adversely. That had to be part of awareness education for South Africans to be aware of cult like religious organisations, though it had not been raised at the hearings. 

Mr Mileham said that the Committee had to be careful that it did not insert things into the CRL investigation report which the Committee wanted to add, as the discussion was on the committees summary report based on findings reported by the CRL commission in its investigative report. 

Mr Masondo said all he had been driving at was that there needed to be clarity emanating from the report on what cult like religious organisations were and what separated them from churches and other non cult like religious organisations.

Mr Mthethwa said that the fact that the hearings were in Parliament and hosted by the Committee was what was driving other members of the Committee to want to add further inputs and that when some sentences as drafted in the summary report was not reflecting the inputs from stakeholders correctly then members would want to engage the report.

Mr Mileham disagreed that the point being discussed were findings in the CRL commissions report and nothing else, therefore that could not be edited as somewhere else in the summary report the Committee’s inputs and findings were recorded and therein Committee observations could be edited.

Mr Mthethwa asked if the Committee was barred from engaging the findings of the CRL commission.

The Chairperson said that the Committee could not change the CRL commission’s findings but would edit its own under the section of Committee observations.

Mr Mileham noted a grammatical error.

He had a problem with was being said when referring to ‘public money’ as that meant ‘state money’ which he cautioned that when such references were made the context had to be fitting the reference.

The Chairperson said he thought the reference was to money from congregants.

Mr Mileham said that was his point; that congregants’ money was not public money as it was not from the public purse.

The Chairperson said that the grammar would be rectified.

Committee observations

Mr Masondo agreed with the point about lack of succession planning in religious organisations which would limit divisions and breakaway though he felt the sentence was incomplete. People had died already because of the challenge of succession planning in a number of churches, at Shembe and Modise churches in Johannesburg that the issue of conflict leading to fatalities had to be covered somewhere in the document.

Mr Mileham said it had to be noted that there had been extensive disagreement about the constitutionality of the recommendations of the CRL Commission. The Committee had also been presented with a charter of religious rights which had been adopted by a number of religious organisations which had addressed some of the concerns and had indicated an attempt to self regulate. 

Mr Mthethwa proposed that it be noted that the Committee had not approved the CRL Commission’s report as it had differences with the findings of the CRL Commission, thus the Committee’s sentiment that the report was part of an ongoing process.

Mr Masondo said though the Committee had agreed that the hearings and the report of the CRL Commission were only the beginning in trying to reign in abuse of people’s beliefs, the debate and consultations on the matter could not be continuous with no end; rather Parliament had to find a way of engaging civil society, apart from religious organisations only on the matters emanating from the CRL report; whose wisdom the Committee could benefit from. That would encourage transparency.

During the hearings he had also sensed that there were also religious scholars with detailed presentations.

Mr C Matsepe (DA) recalled that there had been a call that religious organisations had to constitute a forum which would bring forth how they envisaged to self regulate and to present that to the Committee. 

Committee recommendations

Mr Mthethwa said that stakeholders had also noted that being summoned to appear before the CRL Commission panel had not been done in good faith; but he wanted clarity regarding that statement, as there was a challenge with the grammar and sentence structure.

Mr Mileham said the argument then had been that religious leaders had bemoaned being summoned to appear before the CRL Commission as they would have gladly come before the panel had there been an invitation to do so before the summons.

Mr Mthethwa differed with Mr Mileham as the Committee had been shown invitation correspondence between the CRL Commission and some religious leaders and those that had refused invitations had eventually been summoned. He was proposing that the sentence be deleted as it had the potential to mislead people that had not been in attendance at the hearings.

Mr Mileham asked that the CRL Commission be allowed to respond to whether or not every attendee of the CRL Commission hearings had been summoned.

Mrs Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, Chairperson, CRL Commission, said that initially the Commission had partnered with the South African Council of Churches (SACC) issuing invitations for attendance but discovered that there had been lack of participation from those invited. To avoid fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the process, the Commission had interrogated its mandate and what its establishing Act allowed it to do in such instances. Having found provision to summon religious leaders as the investigation was a section 7 investigation the Commission then had implemented that provision which was within the law and was not in bad faith. There remained religious leaders that did not attend the hearings even post-summoning.

Mr Mileham said every organisation that had appeared before the Commission had received a summons wherein legal action had been mentioned. In the Committees hearings there was a complaint from the Christian religious sector that summoning was done in bad faith. That observation by the Committee was based on the stakeholders input who were in attendance the Committee’s hearings.

Mr Mthethwa said that unless the statement was qualified that ‘some’ religious leaders at the Committees hearings felt aggrieved at being summoned then he maintained that it be deleted as not all stakeholders at the Committee hearings were aggrieved.

The Chairperson recalled that indeed there were pastors and bishops that had participated willingly in the Commission’s hearings and that would be rectified. Thus the stakeholders had proposed being allowed and assisted to constitute a national consultative conference as recalled by Mr Matsepe above. Furthermore there had been consensus that there was abuse of people’s belief systems.

Mr Mileham recalled that various participants had called for a national consultative conference and that the CRL Act provided for that in section 24 imposing an obligation that the Commission had to convene such a conference twice in its tenure with every leadership change; the Act also allowed for the Commission to fundraise. In addition, the law allowed the Commission to go to some of the religious organisations to contribute towards a national consultative conference.

In terms of regulation and registration of religious organisation his recommendation was that caution had to be exercised and that rather Government had to strengthen existing legislation; specifically the  Non-Profit Organisations Act 71 of 1997, Income Tax Act both of which applied to religious organisations. Government had to push for registration of religious bodies as NPOs and enforcement of that NPO Act which required that religious organisations to submit the financial statements and constitutions and changes in their leadership structures. He did not believe that the structure the Commission had presented in the proposed amendment was constitutionally sound and believed that it would be rejected very early in the process by any competent court in the country; therefore the Committee had to be cautious about adopting that part of the Commission’s report. In terms of advertising and abuse of media privileges the Committee had to recommend a strengthening of Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASASA) to give them more teeth to penalise people making false claims, that is where there was no scientific evidence for a claim. There could not be a claim made.

He further recommended that out of the national consultative conference the religious sector had to develop a code of conduct for religious bodies and that had then to be recognised in terms of the law and that could be done through the NPO Act in liaison with the Department of Social Development (DSD).

Mr Masondo appealed that religion could not be subjected to science as that debate had been going on for centuries. There were sections in print media publications that had to be reviewed to ensure that disclaimers were written into the claims that people made because only in public entities could the likes of ICASA come into regulate and verify the veracity of claims made. With private media publications and false claims the Government would have a challenge in enforcing compliance with regulations.

Mr Mthethwa said there was a gap in good governance structures in some churches and religious bodies which had to be strengthened and registration had to e encouraged.

Mr Mileham said his point was that the advertisements had to be evidence based and not that the religion had to be subjected to science. He agreed with Mr Mthethwa that every church and religious organisation be registered but in terms of the NPO Act as that brought in certain governance criteria, which was enforceable because until that was done, then Government would simply be creating another body to duplicate what was already provided for in the NPO Act. The Committee could do this by insuring that the NPO Directorate at DSD enforced the law to the letter.

Professor Luka Mosoma, Deputy Chairperson, CRL Commission, said the issue of evidence had to do with when making a claim, it had to be substantiated. What was called a ‘miracle’ was in fact a violation of the laws of nature because in the laws of nature there was a ‘how things happen’ whereas a ‘miracle’ reversed that. That was an important entry point into religion because when Christians said Jesus rose from the dead after three days, then a violation of the laws of nature existed. 

Mr Mileham emphasised that Government had to enforce its laws more stringently as it was already in the law that one could not falsely advertise without being able to substantiate a claim made in media.

Mr Masondo said that his concern was exactly with what Mr Mileham was saying as there were pastors on television and print media where men of religion were making claims already and for a long time where advertisements were not tested.

Mrs Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said in the CRL Act it was specified who needed to be invited to the national consultative conference and for what purpose it had to be convened. Such a conference only could be convened for cultural, religious and linguistic communities and not for one sector only. The challenge with that would be that the other two sectors would bemoan the fact that the commission had managed to get to a consultative conference with just one sector. Possibly the Committee could assist the Commission in reviewing the CRL Act regarding what was allowed and disallowed in convening a national consultative conference.

The Chairperson said the approach towards a consultative conference of course could have innovation within it but certainly the idea of a conference could not be lost by the commission. The other two sectors could be accommodated and the work around that could be resolved as the process unfolded but the consensus by the religious sector to have a consultative conference was a step in the right direction, leadership by the CRL and Government had to take advantage of that fact that society agreed there was abuse of peoples belief systems.    

Mr Mileham said that he did not think that the consultative conference had to be exclusively for religious bodies, as how Government and society dealt with the bigger issue of abuse of peoples belief systems affected every member of society. Therefore his proposal was for all three sectors under the CRL ambit as that was an obligation of the Commission and he emphasised that an option was for the Commission to approach the religious bodies for assistance with funding a national and all sector inclusive consultative conference.

The purpose of the consultative conference in terms of section 25(a) of the CRL Act would be for the consideration of a report by the Commission and any recommendations of the Commission; that is the CRL had to submit its report and recommendations to a national consultative conference in the same manner it had done to Parliament.

The Chairperson said the CRL Commission was not refusing to do as Mr Mileham was stating but was simply raising the issue of there being other considerations that had to be factored in regarding a national consultative conference. Amongst those was funding and as Mr Mileham was proposing, the Commission could approach the same stakeholders for funding.

Mr Mthethwa noted that Mrs Mkhwanazi-Xaluva had highlighted the issue of considering the two other sectors the CRL had a mandate over. 

Prof Mosoma said the Commission accepted and indeed it was incumbent upon it to convene the consultative conference and on two occasions it had highlighted the issue around funding in that regard. In addition to money appropriated by Parliament for the purpose of the conference indeed the Commission would try to fundraise but in the event that did not materialise, it would request the Committee’s assistance in getting a further appropriation. 

Mr Mileham asked whether in the request for funding from the CRL from the national consultative conference; had the Commission costed it and put it down in a proposal what in fact would be needed in terms of resources?

The Chairperson said that the Commission had presented such documents to the Committee.

Ms Bernedette Muthien, Commissioner, CRL Commission, said important was the potential conflict of interest the commission had in sourcing funding from anywhere. Sourcing money from the religious sector was deeply problematic and her suggestion was that the onus for fundraising for the consultative conference fell within the ambit of Parliament.

The Chairperson said there would be a separate meeting to discuss such issues with the CRL commission. He thanked the Commission for having done the ground work to resolve the challenges with abuse of people’s belief systems. He said the report would be finalised in the next meeting where it would be adopted. He thanked the Members and the CRL together with all those that had been in attendance.

The meeting was then adjourned.