Pupils offered counselling after pastor says gay people are 'going to hell'
Counselling has been offered to pupils after a pastor invited to speak at a high school in Cape Town allegedly likened members of the LGBTI+ community to paedophiles who were going to hell.
The pastor allegedly told pupils affiliated to the school’s Christian student body that there was “no place in heaven” for gay people, and that youngsters who had sex before marriage were prostitutes.
Details about what was allegedly relayed by the pastor were revealed in an e-mail read out on Cape Talk radio on Tuesday. He also allegedly offended pupils by describing sangomas as “devils and witches”.
Western Cape education department director of communication Bronagh Hammond said the pastor’s comments about the LGBTI+ community and sex had been reported "to the principal as well as our district office".
“We have offered support and counselling for those learners,” she added. She said the department was not aware of a second visit by the pastor during which he allegedly described sangomas as witches.
“There is a lot of hurt and anxiety around this but we just hope that the school uses this as an opportunity to showcase what intolerance can do, and what hatred can come out of intolerance,” said Hammond.
Explaining the department’s policy on religion in schools, she said people were allowed to have freedom of expression, but at the same time principals were warned to be cautious when dealing with controversial topics that could hurt people’s feelings.
She said pupils had the right not to partake in religious activities, should they not wish to.
The pastor, in an interview with the radio station later, denied making derogatory remarks about the LGBTI+ community when he was there on Friday.
"Before I went into that school, I asked the teacher if I can preach the full gospel here because if not I'll get in my car and go home. I will not preach a half gospel," he said.
Michael Swain, executive director of Freedom of Religion SA, said in a statement on Tuesday that the report raised questions about what religious speakers can and cannot say at schools.
"While public schools may not promote a particular religion, the law is clear that religious sermons are allowed at schools. That said, although religious speakers who are invited into schools have a right to express their religious convictions and beliefs, it is important that they do so in a manner that extends dignity and respect to all," he said.
On the line between free speech and hate speech he said: "The constitutional right to free speech is a very broad right that includes opinions and ideas that people do not like, do not agree with, or even find offensive.
"In recent cases, the Supreme Court of Appeal again stated that 'the fact that a particular expression may be hurtful of people’s feelings, or wounding, distasteful, politically inflammatory or downright offensive, does not exclude it from [constitutional] protection'."
But, he added, where speech amounted to the advocacy of hatred that constituted incitement to cause harm, "such speech will not be protected".
The school principal was in a staff meeting when Cape Talk tried to contact him earlier in the day.