A group of Christian leaders have complained that, if made law, South Africa’s hate crimes bill could stop them from preaching that homosexuality is a sin.
The Ministerial Leaders for Christian Rights, said to represent around 100 church leaders in Durban, has argued that the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill will infringe on the right to freedom of religion.
“The Bible speaks against homosexuality. As much as we embrace individual constitutional freedoms, when it comes to the church, we address our congregations based on the scriptures and we are very concerned that it could be misinterpreted as hate speech,” said Pastor Lazarus Pillay, spokesperson for the group.
Pillay said he feared that the bill would not allow churches to speak out against matters that have “eroded the moral fibre of society” and would have the effect of “silencing the church from speaking on sensitive issues that affect their communities on a social development and moral basis”.
According to The Mercury, the organisation is prepared to challenge the proposed legislation in the courts, and aims to compile a petition with more than a million signatures objecting to the bill.
Pillay further told EWN: “As the church has advised and the Constitution allows the church to have a freedom of religion. The church also believes that the Bible is its Constitution and the Bible speaks against it (homosexuality).”
The hate crimes bill, which was released for comment in October, defines hate speech as “any form of communication (verbal, written or physical) that “advocates hatred towards any other person or group of persons; or is threatening, abusive or insulting towards any other person or group of persons”.
It also criminalises the distribution or publishing of hate speech via, for example, social media; a phenomenon that has made headlines in South Africa over the past year.
The penalties for hate speech in the bill include: for a first offender, a fine and/or imprisonment for up to three years; and, for repeat offenders, a fine and/or imprisonment for up to ten years.
The public have until 31 January to submit their comments on the legislation. To read the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, click here.