"What we have here is a legal tool for people to hold schools to account"

Jacques Rousseau, Critical Thinking and Ethics lecturer at UCT welcomes the High Court ruling on Wednesday that schools cannot promote one religion or favour one over another.

The application was brought by the Organization for Religious Education and Democracy, known as Ogod, and was opposed by the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools as well as other groups such as Afriforum.

Ogod argued that there is religious bias in South African public schools.

It could have gone further, but it is a good start.

Jacques Rousseau, Critical Thinking and Ethics, UCT

We do live in a deeply religious country, and I think that is what leads to this misconception - that secularism has to include anti-religion. And it does not have to be that at all....religions is rather a private matter.

Jacques Rousseau, Critical Thinking and Ethics, UCT

He argues that we do want to cherish. respect and teach the wonderful diversity of belief and culture - but without prescribing any one of them.

So there is certainly a place for education on religion, and religious culture and symbolism. It is a vitally important thing.

Jacques Rousseau, Critical Thinking and Ethics, UCT

Related article: It is not the school's task to instruct children on religion - Ogod

But what we don't want, says, is to take formative young minds and lead them down a particular path before they are able to think for themselves.

Rosseau explains that the Court ruling left in place school governing boards ability to dictate the nature of religious adherence so long as schools ensured and respected Section 52 of the Constitution - that they were free, equitable and voluntary.

Schools can no longer advertise itself as having a Christian character or having religious symbolism on uniforms.

Up until now, pupils have had the option to 'opt out' of religious practices within schools but he says that often came with judgement and peer pressure, he says.

What we have here is a legal tool for people to hold schools to account to be equitable and fair.

Jacques Rousseau, Critical Thinking and Ethics, UCT

But measuring what is equitable and fair is difficult, and in that sense Rosseau says it is a narrow ruling.

We might find schools justifying what they already do but dressing it up in a different way, he concludes.

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