Religion and the public sphere: Towards a model that positively recognises diversity

Authors David Bilchitz, Alistair Williams

ISSN: 1996-2126
Affiliations: Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg; Director, South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC), a Centre of the University of Johannesburg; Research Intern, SAIFAC, University of Johannesburg
Source: South African Journal on Human Rights, Volume 28 Issue 2, 2012, p. 146 – 175


What model of the relationship between religion and state is optimal for South Africa? In order to identify the possibilities that exist, this article engages in a critical evaluation of the differing models of the state-religion relationship that have been adopted internationally. Part I seeks to identify, from a philosophical perspective, the advantages and disadvantages of particular models. Part II then focuses more closely on the particular historical and social context of South Africa as well as the most important constitutional provisions and case law. We shall argue in this section for what we term a ‘positive recognition’ model of the relationship between religion and state in South Africa, which emerges from the values underlying the Constitution. The model is not predicated on a strict, inflexible separation between the public and private realms. It requires the state to recognise the significance of religious identities to individuals and to take active measures to enable individuals to realise those identities. Importantly, it must do so in a manner that treats differing religious (and other philosophical) conceptions of the good equally. The last part of the article seeks to illustrate the implications of this model in practice in relation to two important practical questions where the state-religion relationship is implicated: public holidays of a religious character and the presence of religion at state ceremonies.