n South African Journal on Human Rights - Introduction : the right to freedom of religion in South Africa and related challenges

Volume 28, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



For many believers, their relationship with God or creation is central to all their activities. It concerns their capacity to relate in an intensely meaningful fashion to their sense of themselves, their community and their universe. For millions in all walks of life, religion provides support and nurture and a framework for individual and social stability and growth. Religious belief has the capacity to awake concepts of self-worth and human dignity which form the cornerstone of human rights.

In this quote, Sachs J highlights the crucial significance of religious belief to many millions of individuals in South Africa. Yet, surprisingly, there has been very limited legal academic writing concerning the implications of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 for religious rights and freedoms, even though there is an urgent need for an examination of these fundamental issues. In the past, the South African state has had a problematic relationship with religion. To a large extent, the state aligned itself (at least during the apartheid era) with a particular form of Christianity, which had implications for the type of education, public holidays, modes of entertainment and sexual conduct that were permissible. Moreover, some religious groupings provided doctrinal support and legitimation for the apartheid system; others strongly opposed it. This history thus requires us to think seriously about the relationship between religion and the state as well as the role religion plays within South African society as a whole.

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