Mottos, prayer and the public university

Authors Shaun de Freitas

ISSN: 1996-2126
Affiliations: Constitutional Law & Philosophy of Law, University of the Free State
Source: South African Journal on Human Rights, Volume 28 Issue 2, 2012, p. 176 – 195


Recent decisions by the University of the Free State (UFS) regarding the amendment of its motto and the prohibition of the public manifestation of prayer at formal occasions serve as a catalyst towards discussion on the role and place of religion not only in a public university but also in the public sphere. The exclusion of religious expression and activity seems to be part of the UFS’s drive towards a ‘transformed and inclusivist’ approach. This article consequently investigates such exclusivist measures, critically analysing whether such initiatives are truly aligned with ‘transformative’ and ‘inclusivist’ aims. How religious (and belief) expressions and practices are dealt with at the UFS makes for a particularly good case study regarding commitments to pluralism, accommodation and multiculturalism. By looking specifically at the changing of the motto of the UFS and the exclusion of prayer at this institution, this article seeks to find solutions to a more effective accommodation of religious expression at the UFS. Lessons can be learnt from this not only for the UFS, but also for any public institution.