Sunday Times, Johannesburg, August 8, 1999
Christians must spare the rod says High Court--Schools fail in their quest to have corporal punishment legalised
By Carmel Rickard
SPANKING - biblically based or otherwise - will continue to be banned from schools following the decision of Port Elizabeth High Court judge Hennie Liebenberg, handed down this week.
Judge Liebenberg was ruling on a test case brought by Christian Education South Africa (Cesa) last month, asking for the right for teachers to administer corporal punishment to pupils who misbehaved. The government strongly opposed the application.
Cesa claimed it was an essential requirement of Christianity that children be corrected in this way.
Its executive director, Ian Vermooten, said that the 1996 Schools Act which bans physical punishment was an infringement on the religious freedom of those parents who sent their children to Cesa schools. He therefore urged that the Schools Act should be declared unconstitutional.
Judge Liebenberg, however, found that corporal punishment was a "peripheral issue" for the Christian mission of Cesa's member schools. It had been effectively watered down because it applied only to boys in the high schools, while girls were corrected using non-physical means.
The sections of the Bible relied on by Cesa contained guidelines directed only at parents about the use of the rod. No biblical guidelines were shown to the court which suggested that anyone other than parents had a right or duty to apply physical correction.
The judge said Cesa's members had accepted that not all biblical guidelines on disciplining children were still regarded as appropriate punishment a few thousand years later.
In the book of Deuteronomy, parents with a stubborn son were told to take him to the elders of the city who should stone the son to death. This, said Judge Liebenberg, did not form part of Christian religious doctrine.
He concluded that while there were some differences between the physical punishment carried out on juveniles in prison and that meted out in schools, the similarities outweighed the differences. "The immediate purpose remains to inflict acute physical pain. Its result must also be a cringing fear, a terror of expectation before the whipping and acute distress. It is no less an affront to the dignity of all concerned."
The Constitutional Court's finding that the whipping of juveniles in prison was unconstitutional should also apply to physical punishment in schools.
If corporal punishment was allowed in Cesa's schools, even if in the name of religion, it would allow them to practise their religion in a way inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.
After the judgment Cesa's lawyers said their clients were still deciding whether or not to appeal.