Banning worship but allowing gambling is discrimination: Muslim Lawyers Association on lockdown

The long-awaited challenge against the complete nationwide ban imposed on religious gatherings continues in the high court on Tuesday where the Muslim Lawyers Association made its submissions.
The long-awaited challenge against the complete nationwide ban imposed on religious gatherings continues in the high court on Tuesday where the Muslim Lawyers Association made its submissions.
Image: 123RF/Goran Bogicevic

Discrimination was manifestly clear in lockdown regulations which banned faith-based meetings while other gatherings in places such as casinos, gyms and museums were permitted.

This was the submission made by the Muslim Lawyers Association in the South Gauteng High Court on Tuesday in a case challenging regulations by the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) which prohibited faith-based gatherings during certain levels of lockdown in SA.

The organisation is one of four seeking an order declaring that regulations which eliminated the right to gather and worship, while other sectors of the country were free to go about their business, were unconstitutional and unlawful.

They also seek to set aside regulations made by the Cogta minister in December 2020 and January 2021, which banned all religious gatherings during those periods of lockdown.

Feroze Boda SC, for the association, said there could be little debate that the regulations infringed on the right to religion and the right to equality.

Boda said this was because these core rights gave human beings identity and allowed them to express that identity.

Boda gave an example of a mosque situated near the Gold Reef City casino in Ormonde,  southern Johannesburg.

“To tell a religious person, who can see cars parked at the casino, that you cannot enter your mosque to pray, but another person who wants to gamble can go into the casino to gamble just because that person is helping somebody to earn an income, is elevating pecuniary interest over dignity.”

He said that could never be a rational explanation for the differentiation between religious interests and interests relating to money.

Regulations on gatherings at casinos and other venues provided that they were limited to 50 or less at indoor venues.

The regulations stated that if the venue was too small to hold the prescribed number of people observing a distance of at least 1.5m from each other, then no more than 50% of venue could be used, Boda said.

“Why on earth would this similar accommodation given to casinos, cinemas, theatres, museums and all of the other gatherings which are permitted not be courteously extended to the religious community?”

He said the association was not asking for mass gatherings. “That is where the discrimination manifests clearly. Casinos can use their buildings. We cannot use our premises.”

The hearing continues before judge Bashier Vally.

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