This interesting case was heard in the Constitutional court in 2002. A lawyer, Gareth Prince, brought a case against The Law Society. They refused to allow him to become an attorney because he uses dagga as part of his Rastafarian religion. He has even been twice convicted for having dagga. Dagga is classed as an illegal, harmful drug in South Africa.

Mr Prince at first wanted the law on dagga to be changed. Then he shifted to asking for an exemption from the law for people using it as part of their religion. He said he was being denied these rights: to personal freedom, to freedom of religion, the right not to be discriminated against and the right to choose a profession. The court agreed that Mr Prince was a genuine Rastafarian. He only used the drug in controlled way for religious purposes. But the court was concerned about allowing an exemption for drug that can cause harm, and how the exemption would be policed. In the end Mr Prince lost his case.

School dress codes and cultural and religious practices have often made the news in South Africa. For example, in 2006 the High Court heard an appeal by Mrs Navaneetham Pillay against Durban Girls High School and the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department. The school dress code only allowed girls to wear simple earrings and a watch. In Hindu culture when a girl is about 15 she traditionally begins to wear a nose stud. The school refused to allow Mrs Pillay’s daughter to wear this so, she went to court. The Judge said that “I find that unfair discrimination against Appellant, her daughter and their group has taken place,” and the school was forced to change its dress code.

The Citizen newspaper reported in 2007 about a young learner who was not allowed to wear his goatskin isiphandla. They classed it as ‘jewellery’. His family had told him, according to their belief and traditions, that he would fall ill if it was removed instead of coming off by itself. And the little boy did show a negative change in behaviour. However, in this case, some of his teachers supported him and the Gauteng Education Department ruled in favour of the boy’s right to his beliefs.

Do you know that corporal punishment in schools is illegal in South Africa? In 2000 a group of evangelical Christian schools brought a case against the Department of Education, claiming that “corporal correction” was part of their Christian ethos. They said stopping them from beating children was against their individual, parental and community rights and their right to freely practise their religion. The court dismissed their case to be exempt from the law.

Here are some other religious practices. Are they going against human rights? Some religions or belief systems:

• Do not allow contraception, abortion or limiting family size.

• Do not allow life-saving medical treatments such as blood transfusions.

• Force every male child to be circumcised.

• Force every female child to have her clitoris cut out before puberty.

• Say women are under the rule of men in the family.

• Arrange marriages for their children and allow child brides.

• Do not allow marriage to a person of another religion or culture.

Tell us what you think…