Court's gay ruling upsets Christian bodies

Two Christian bodies expressed concern on Friday at a Pretoria High Court ruling that the NG Kerk in Moreleta Park had unfairly discriminated against a gay music teacher when it fired him.

Both the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the Apostolic Faith Mission said the right to equality should not trump the right to religious freedom. They expressed disappointment and “serious concern” at the court’s decision.

The ACDP said the ruling appears to deny the church’s right to hire and fire teachers on the basis of religious convictions.
Party president Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said this is constitutionally protected by the right to religious freedom and freedom of association.

Meshoe said the ACDP believes the right to equality should not trump the right to religious freedom and the right to freedom of association.

“All rights are subject to limitation in terms of section 36 of the Constitution in certain circumstances,” he said.

Apostolic Faith Mission church president Dr Isak Burger said the ruling is a “serious threat” to religious freedom in South Africa. It subjects the biblically based beliefs and values of the majority of Christians to “pure humanism and an extremely secular and liberal Constitution. It places the Constitution above the Bible and man above God.”

The court ruled on Thursday that the Moreleta Park congregation had unfairly discriminated against Johan Strydom when it fired him three years ago, after learning that he was in a gay relationship.

Judge Dion Basson ordered the congregation to pay the teacher damages of R87 000 and to apologise unconditionally for its conduct. He said Strydom’s contract was terminated on the basis that he was involved in a homosexual relationship.

The church had failed to prove that Strydom’s job entailed religious instruction, or that the discrimination against him had been fair or justified, the judge found.

On Friday, Beeld newspaper quoted Strydom as saying that the unconditional apology owed to him by the church would also be an apology to many other gay people.

However, it also spoke to Professor Piet Strauss, moderator of the NG Kerk, who said a church should have the freedom to stipulate a lifestyle based on the Bible for its employees and members.

“How can the church be true to the Bible while following the man-made Constitution of the country? How much can a court interfere in internal church matters?” Strauss asked.

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