Benson, I. (2013). Religious interfaith work in Canada and South Africa with particular focus on the drafting of a South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 69 (1).
Constitutional protections for religious freedom (and related freedoms of conscience, belief and association and equality), once interpreted by courts and tribunals, apply in a precedential manner to future cases. They have an influence well beyond the particular community to which they first applied. For this reason, religious communities have increasingly banded together and sought to intervene or even, on occasion, to initiate legal actions asserting or defending their rights. This article reviews some of the principles around the freedom of religion as understood in South Africa and Canada to show how courts have understood the freedom of religion in its social context. In addition, interfaith cooperation is discussed with particular reference to the recent process which led to the formation of a Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms pursuant to Section 234 of the South African Constitution (which is attached to the article). This section, a unique provision in any constitution, allows for the creation of additional Charters to give greater specificity to the general language of the Constitution itself. As such, it is an encouragement to civil society to determine what it thinks are the important provisions that should be spelled out to give guidance to politicians and the judiciary. A wide variety of religious groups participated in the creation of the Charter. The Charter does not claim to be, nor could it be, exhaustive of such concerns but demonstrates that religions can cooperate across a host of issues in education, health care, employment and other issues. The next stage – passage into law, is still in the future but the first important hurdle has been crossed with the signing of the Charter in October of 2010. The Charter might be a template for other countries though changes would be necessary to deal with local issues.
religious freedom, interfaith work, constitutional protection, Canada, South Africa