The South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms is an authoritative and widely endorsed document explaining in full the meaning of the right to freedom of religion and belief that is guaranteed in section 15 of the South African Constitution. The Charter explains the rights, freedoms and responsibilities associated with the right to religious freedom, and includes the freedom to believe and what to believe, the right to meet with others and conduct religious observances, freedom of expression regarding religion, the right to make choices in accordance with one’s beliefs, educational rights pertaining to religion, and the right of institutions to regulate their own affairs. The Charter emphasises the duty of the state to protect the right to freedom of religion and belief, and that the state may not discriminate against anybody on religious grounds. Given its wide support among religions, the Charter therefore forms an important yardstick for regulating the relationship between religion and the state.
The Charter was drafted over a period of time by a group of religious and legal scholars. Throughout the process, religious leaders and bodies from all persuasions were consulted, and adapted drafts of the Charter were circulated among them for their input. Finally, at a special ceremony on 21st October 2010 in Johannesburg, at which event the deputy chief justice was the guest speaker, the Charter was signed by the delegates and since then represents the considered view on religious
freedom of many religious institutions. The Charter is still being promoted, and over 150 religious and other bodies (including all major religions in South Africa), representing over 22 million South Africans, have so far endorsed the Charter as an authoritative explanation of the right to religious freedom. The Charter has been translated into six official languages.
Also at the ceremony in 2010, a Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms (CRRF), chaired by Prof Pieter Coertzen of Stellenbosch, was formed by the delegates to promote the Charter and monitor its progress. There are still many religious institutions and individuals who have not taken note of the content of the Charter, or endorsed the Charter, and the CRRF continues to invite all religions, religious bodies, as well as any other interested body or individual, to endorse the Charter or express their support for it in any other way. Actually, we encourage all religious institutions to adopt the Charter formally as part of their official documentation.
Recently, the CRRF added extensive explanatory notes to the Charter to make it easily accessible to readers. These notes can be obtained from us.