Ecclesia De Langa
In a major setback, the judge deliberating the firing of Ecclesia de Lange (43) as a minister by the Methodist Church because she is lesbian has dismissed the case.
On Wednesday morning, Judge Veldhuizen dismissed, with costs, De Lange’s application to order the Church to reinstate her on the basis that she was discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.
Veldhuizen ruled that the application to the High Court was premature and has referred the matter back to arbitration.
An attempt to resolve the dismissal through arbitration has previously failed.
A ruling on the matter could have broken new ground as it deals with complex issues of constitutional equality, labour law and freedom of religion.
De Lange’s spokesperson, Mike Luppnow said that there was a “feeling of betrayal” among De Lange’s supporters in court.
“We do not feel that justice has been served,” Luppnow told Mambaonline. “We see it as a travesty that we are being forced back into the lions’ den, back into an unfair arbitration process. It’s a Church appointed arbitrator, who is biased. And it took four years to get through arbitration last time. She was denied legal counsel before and will likely be denied this again.”
He said it was unfortunate that while De Lange had been denied an income by the Church she was now also being forced to pay the legal costs for the case.
Luppnow explained that De Lange’s legal team was assessing the judgment to decide on how to proceed but said that “whether Ecclesia has the energy and the political will to walk the journey is another story. It’s a highly expensive exercise. We don’t have huge pockets of funding.”
De Lange was not in court as she is on holiday and the announcement of the judge’s ruling gave her little time to return.
In a statement, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa (MCSA), Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa, said: “We welcome the judgement; the Church will continue to be in prayer and conversation over this issue as we encourage life giving interaction and dialogue.”
The MCSA further insisted that the case was “not about the church being homophobic or discriminating against anyone because of their sexual orientation. Rather, it was a disciplinary matter dedicated to upholding the standards set out in our Laws and Discipline, the constitution of our Church.”
De Lange was dismissed by the MCSA in 2010 when she announced her intention to marry her female partner.
In January 2010, a disciplinary hearing found De Lange guilty of “failing to observe the provisions of the Laws and Disciplines and all other policies, decisions, practices and usages of the Church…”
A month later, the MCSA’s Connexional Disciplinary Committee upheld the guilty verdict and sentenced De Lange to be “discontinued” from the ministry of the MCSA.