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School CP - August 2000

Corpun file 6063

Business Day, Johannesburg, 21 August 2000

Court Prefers Sparing Rod

By Bonile Ngqiyaza

The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a ban on corporal punishment in schools on Friday, dismissing an appeal by a Christian association to be allowed to continue with the practice on religious grounds.

The appeal came from Christian Education SA a voluntary association of 196 independent Christian schools with about 14500 pupils.

The association had asked the court to declare section 10 of the SA Schools Act invalid because it disallowed corporal punishment in its schools a biblical injunction and a vital aspect of its religious ethos.

The court noted in its ruling that the case did not require a decision on whether moderate corporal correction by parents at home violated the constitution. "The Schools Act does not purport to reach the home or practices in the home," it said.

The association had argued that section 10 of the act limited parental, individual and community rights.

The education ministry, in its response, said it was the infliction rather than the prohibition of what the association termed "corporal correction" that infringed children's constitutional rights.

These rights, the ministry said, were the rights to equality; human dignity and freedom and security.

It also said the act provided a single framework for public and independent schools and pupils.

Judge Albie Sachs in a unanimous court judgment held that the act had indeed limited the religious and community rights of Christian Education SA. However, he ruled that this was justifiable.

The case, said Sachs, raised difficult questions, which required weighing considerations of faith against those of reason and of separating out what aspects of an activity were religious and protected by the bill of rights.

He said it required separating what aspects were secular and open to regulation in the ordinary way.

Sachs said believers could not claim an automatic right of exemption from the laws of the land by virtue of their beliefs.

Simultaneously, however, he said the state should, wherever possible, seek to avoid forcing believers to make "extremely painful and intensely burdensome choices" of either being true to their faith or respectful of the law.

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