PETITION AGAINST ‘HATE SPEECH’ BILL IN SOUTH AFRICA
The following message (or similar versions of it, also in Afrikaans) is doing the rounds in South Africa via WhatsApp and email:
“Extremely urgent message to SA Christians!! The ‘Hate Speech Bill’ – again!!! Yes! 1000 times yes, because 95% of SA’s Christians do not know and the 5% who know still do nothing! For the last 10 years the government has been working on the proposed Hate Speech Bill due to international pressure. End 2016, the proposed bill was released with 30 days (4 December deadline) (postponement until 31 January) for the South African public to react. 10 years of work, 1 month! Needless to say, the people (SA Christians) who it will affect the most, are sound asleep oblivious to the possible repercussions!
Here is the problem with the Bill: Although the SA constitution has adequate legislation to deal with racism, discrimination and hate speech, the Bill on religion and religious freedom is very broad and it could become catastrophic. In countries where such a Hate Speech Bill was released, the following has already happened:
- someone finds the cross around your neck offensive, you are charged, put on trial and sentenced with EITHER a large fine OR 3-10 years in prison
- you quote in public a verse from the Bible, someone does not agree with it, feels condemned and finds it offensive, same sentence…
- if you want to preach the Word at any level, you need a special license
- pastors have to present their sermons to a council for approval and much more…
The constitution’s provision for freedom of religion is therefore cancelled hereby…
This is unfortunately our plight if we do not stand up and take action. Christians will be forced to go underground because the prosecution will be fierce… It has already been spoken of on Faith channel on DSTV and on radio stations, but there is SO little time and so few people know about it yet!
There are currently organisations that fight for this at government level, but they need every believer’s voice/vote as evidence.
We as Christians are asked to do two things for now:
- Write an e-mail to: email@example.com Attention: T Ross
Herein we should say why we want to review the Hate Speech Bill around freedom of religion. We must clearly say that we will not compromise the gospel. Please keep your copy, because after this proposal there will be another representation!
- Sign two petitions: 1 against the Regulation of Religion (CRL) and 1 against the Hate Speech Bill on Freedom of Religion’s website: www.forsa.org.za or www.change.com
And finally: please forward this message to your friends, family, minister, pastor and broadcast it or as fast and as far and wide as you can! There is little time!”
Although the messages contain elements of the truth and address some concerns, they also contains absurd examples and could cause much damage. The information in the message is manipulated and exaggerated, and is written with a specific agenda and a specific audience in mind.
The important thing all Christians should remember is that it is better to retain your witness and lose your freedom than it is to keep your freedom and lose your witness. And this message could harm the Christian witness in South Africa, as well as the work of FORSA, which pursues reconciliation in the country.
Before we look at the message, there are two things to mention:
1) INcontext’s relationship with FORSA
FORSA (Freedom of Religion South Africa – http://forsa.org.za/), which is currently handling the case, does fantastic work. Andrew Selley, Michael Swayn, Advocate Nadene Badenhorst and their colleagues are a committed team of people who have a heart for the Kingdom. Together we are in agreement that communication of this nature does tremendous damage to the case.
It is also very important to mention that the messages convey false information about the the petition. FORSA does not call on Christians to sign a petition AGAINST the Hate Speech legislation, but against the broader details thereof. The petition (https://www.change.org/p/speak-out-against-the-draft-hate-speech-bill-in-south-africa) mentions the following amongst other things: “While the objectives of the Bill are commendable, we submit that the ‘hate speech’ provisions in the Bill are over-broad and also in conflict with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion guaranteed by the South African Constitution. We further submit that since ‘hate speech’ is already prohibited in South African law, an additional law is unnecessary.”
2) It is really important that we as Christians realise that we are to have an alternative spirit. God has not given us a spirit of fear, BUT of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
We have the mission and mandate that the Lord entrusted to us as His Church – a message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
A RESPONSE TO THE CONTENT OF THE MESSAGES
Our position at INcontext is to NOT forward the message – sign the petition if you want to, but rather send this information to friends so that people can make informed decisions and can sign the petition with a right attitude that is not maniputlated by fear.
The message contains half-truths and full lies, and the interpretation of the facts are exaggerated.
Consider the beginning of the message: “95% of SA Christians do not know and the other 5% does nothing.” Who has done the research to have come up with such numbers? How do you measure such statistics? With what definition are we working? Starting with such a claim is manipulative, causing immediate feelings of guilt if you have not “done anything”.
The next sentence is false: “For the past 10 years the government has been working on the proposed Hate Speech Bill because of international pressure.” The government has only been working on the bill for the past 4 years, and there is NO pressure from outside. Hate speech on social media, as well as a lack of South African reconciliation, prompted the investigation of this legislature. Michael Masutha, Minister of Justice, announced last year that new legislature will be introduced in the fight against hate speech and hate crime, because hate speech appears on social media from time to time.
The part of the message about imprisonment for wearing a cross around the neck and for preaching etc. is nonsense. The legislature basically proposes the following (no mention is made of imprisonment for sharing Scripture or for wearing a cross): “If you intentionally communicate (including gestures, oral statements, electronic communication) advocating hatred or threatening another person or group, aiming to incite others to harm that group, or stir up violence against them, you’ve committed a crime. The law goes further: if you advocate hatred and ‘contempt or ridicule, any person or group of persons’ you can be charged with committing a crime. This includes communication over publicly accessible electronic platforms.”
If Christians take the calling of reconciliation seriously, we should be saying AMEN to this. We should be concerned about preserving people’s dignity.
A dilemma that Christians face is that if we sign a petition against this legislation, it would imply that we are FOR the discriminative acts that it prohibits. This could greatly harm the Church’s witness and influence, by giving the impression that we are FOR hate speech.
ARE THE FEARS LEGITIMATE?
The fear is that the law’s interpretation is too wide – that is what the petition is about. But people are making their own interpretations about what it could mean, based on fear and manipulated by misrepresentations. The person who compiled the original message did not have enough confidence in his (or her) convictions to add their name, which makes it impossible to trace.
It is important to note that this legislation will in some way protect Christians against hate speech, which increasingly happens. This is not an attack against Christians, and Christians should refrain from embracing the “victim” mentality. The issue is about people’s dignity.
In the end, the Scriptures and the character of a conciliatory Christ should be our only measure, and in this message, there is certainly not a focus on a Kingdom outcome.