Mogoeng attempts to clarify religion statements

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng would never allow his faith to override his oath to uphold the Constitution, even if these two value systems clashed in court. In fact, Mogoeng believes the Constitution does not need to be changed “from the look of things” and replaced with a version infused with Christian morality.

However, the chief justice believes that religion could hold some answers to the key dilemmas facing society, and organised religion could do more to ensure these options were known to society.

Mogoeng addressed the media at a briefing at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday, in an effort to clarify controversial remarks he made on law and religion. 

The remarks were made during an address at the University of Stellenbosch last week. Mogoeng was invited by the university to address the conference on Law and religion: The quest for common good in pluralistic societies.

In that speech, Mogoeng said: “I believe that we can only become a better people if religion could be allowed to influence the laws that govern our daily lives starting with the Constitution of any country.”

On Tuesday, Mogoeng said those who criticised his speech had either not read it, or had misunderstood it. He said he only used Christian references in his speech because this was the religion he was most familiar with, and said he did not intend to “push religion down the throats of South Africans”.

Moral regeneration
Mogoeng said the African continent needed moral regeneration and all religions had “treasures”, which society could choose to adopt as part of its value system, so that problems in society could be resolved.

Some of these problems included, for example, adultery, divorce and “promiscuous fornication. Most of our lost generation come from broken families, and adultery is a major cause of family breakdowns,” he said. And “most marriages” affected by adultery ended in divorce, he said, adding that children suffered and could turn to crime as a result.

“The point is, we all know there have been many deaths resulting from the tensions flowing from adultery,” he said. Mogoeng said the same could be said of corruption, “which stems from greed”, and said society needed to consider the impact of “promiscuity” on the spread of HIV.

“We need to ask, what can religion offer? Can we put it on the table, discuss it, or reject it?” he asked. But religion’s usefulness to society would have to be when it was “properly practised”, he said. This meant that “the pelting of stones”, for example, was not permissible.

Mogoeng was noncommittal when asked if he meant that South Africa’s laws were therefore inadequate, although he emphasised that this did not mean they should be changed, or would be changed.

“Are we making it too easy to get divorced without considering the impact this has on children? What does religion say? Are we doing enough to ensure that divorce is a last resort?” But Mogoeng was adamant that he was not advocating for Constitutional change. 

“I’m not saying the Constitution or any particular law must change, but I also know that we haven’t finished changing laws [the Constitution was last amended in August 2013].”

‘Better organised’ religious groupings
Mogoeng said religious groupings needed to be “better organised” to effectively participate in the consultative process before laws were passed. And “in the future”, Mogoeng said, religion might then hope to influence law making at a consultative level.

A question from the floor put it to Mogoeng that his views were in conflict with the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court. Previous judgments have articulated the court’s position that religion should not infuse law making. 

Mogoeng also admitted that biblical views on homosexuality were in conflict with the Constitution. However, he said this did not affect his ability to uphold constitutional values. “As a Christian I know that the Bible speaks out against homosexuality, but I took an oath, and I take that oath very seriously … My responsibility [as a judge] is to ensure that every gay and lesbian person enjoys their rights as protected in the Constitution,” he said.

Writing in the Mail & Guardian in April, Mogoeng described presiding over cases where the Constitution and his religion had been in conflict. But he said he had never allowed his faith to override his commitment to uphold the Constitution.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

Related stories

Hlophe says ‘assassination plot’ is a bid to sully his name

Allegations that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe planned to assassinate his deputy, Patricia Goliath, are leading to further instability on the Cape bench

Fight over chief justice’s Israel comments grows

Last year South Africa closed its embassy in Jerusalem and Africa For Palestine alleged in its complaint that Mogoeng “expressed, or at least unambiguously implied” that this “political posture” was not right

Review: ‘Ikhaya Likamoya’ by Sethembiso Zulu — Ties that bind us all

Multimedia journalist and healer Sethembiso Zulu’s debut solo show embraces a fierce, raw and broken timelessness that encapsulates what it means to be human

Mogoeng’s Palestine stance calls into question his role at the ConCourt

We can only conclude that he ‘willingly and knowingly lent his personal credibility — and that of his office — to a white-washing of Israeli crimes’

Mogoeng on Israel: Bad faith and ‘impunified disregard’ for international law?

The chief justice needs to publicly account for his comments, by either walking them back or explaining his change of heart on international law and its institutions

Judicial Conduct Committee finds prima facie gross misconduct by Judge Mushtak Parker

The committee says if two complaints against him are found to be true, they are “extremely serious”

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…