Religion in school

  • Rassie Malherbe
Keywords: Religion in schools, freedom of religion, secular humanism,


Over the past decade, I have addressed the position of religion in school in various contributions. Despite crystal clear provisions in the Constitution, religion in public schools has become a controversial issue, mainly for two reasons. First, earlier in this decade the state imposed on schools a humanist policy relating to religion that continues to violate religious freedom in various respects. Second, there is an increasingly vocal lobby claiming that the state should not have any involvement with religion at all and, accordingly, that religion does not belong in public schools. In this contribution, I respond to this claim. I am well aware that religion is a sensitive matter, and that people do not want anyone to dictate to them about matters of faith. That is exactly why freedom of religion is protected in the Constitution as a fundamental right, and why we need to keep the Constitution in mind when we express ourselves on this issue. The Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic, and all other legal rules, policies, decisions and conduct are subject to the Constituton and invalid if inconsistent with the Constitution. The Constitution is therefore the first and most important source to which I turn in developing my response to the so-called secularist claim in respect of religion. This may come as a surprise, as many regard the Constitution as a so-called secularist document favouring a humanist worldview. However, the purpose of the Constitution is not to protect only the secularist or humanist worldview. The purpose of the Constitution is to protect all of us, also those of us for whom our religious convictions are determining of our whole life, that we cannot disconnect, as it were, when we enter the public square, and that we take with us everywhere we go, also when we go to school. This accommodating feature of the Constitution can be overlooked only if one views the Constitution through an extremely subjective prism that allows the so-called secularist or humanist viewpoint as the only valid approach to the interpretation of the Constitution.