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So. African Jewish Board Protests Law Omitting ‘conscience Clause’

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The South African Board of Jewish Deputies has issued a statement here, criticizing the omission from a bill passed in new Government legislation doing away with the “Conscience Clause” in the measure to establish a new Afrikaans university in Johannesburg.

The “Conscience Clause” prohibits universities from inquiring into the religious beliefs of staff or students, or from giving or withholding any preference to a staff member or student on the ground of religious belief. In the bill to establish the new Rand Afrikaans University, the “Conscience Clause” is replaced by a clause providing that staff will be engaged, and students admitted, on the grounds of academic and administrative qualifications and abilities and subscription to the principles contained in the preamble to the South African Constitution which acknowledges belief and trust in God.

Following representations by various bodies, the Minister for Education, Arts and Science, Senator de Klerk, amended this by incorporating the reference to the republic’s Constitution in the preamble to the bill, and recasting the relevant clause of the bill to provide that staff appointments shall be on the grounds of academic and administrative qualifications only. The Minister said that freedom of belief was guaranteed by Couth African common law, and the clause as reframed ruled out any possibility of religious discrimination. “A Rabbi, for example,” he said, “could be appointed to lecture in Hebrew, because he was best qualified to do so.” His assurance was accepted by the main opposition party, the United Party, which voted for the bill as amended. Only Mrs. Helen Suzman, the Progressive Party’s solitary Member of Parliament, voted against it, because of the omission of the “Conscience Clause.”

The Board of Deputies statement, while welcoming the Minister’s assurance, pointed out that “there have been conflicting legal opinions on the efficacy of the proposed amendment to protect religious freedom,” and that “no convincing reasons have been given by the promoters of the new University as to why the customary Conscience Clause has been dropped.”

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