Tuesday, May 05, 2020

South African Court Upholds COVID-19 Ban Over Objections of Mosque and Its Imams

Challenges to COVID-19 Orders by houses of worship are not limited to the United States.  In Mohamed v. President of the Republic of South Africa, (SA High Ct., April 30, 2020), a South African trial court judge rejected a challenge to the country's lock down order brought by a mosque and two of its imams and worshipers. The Order, issued under the Disaster Management Act 2002, effectively required all houses of worship to be closed down. The court described the claims being asserted:
According to the applicants, they believe it is obligatory to perform the five daily prayers in congregation and at mosque. Although they admit that their views are not held by the majority of Muslims throughout the country, they claim that the Lockdown Regulations violate their constitutional rights to freedom of movement, freedom of religion, freedom of association (including religious association) and the right to dignity....
... [A]pplicants seek, not just an order exempting them from the restrictions placed on congregational worship, but all persons. 
Section 36 of South Africa' Constitution provides:
The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors....
The court concluded:
This pandemic poses a serious threat to every person throughout South Africa and their right to life, dignity, freedom of movement, right to access healthcare and their right to a clean, safe and healthy environment. In a country where we are dominated by so much poverty, where people don’t have access to basic amenities such as clean running water, housing, food and healthcare, the potential risk to those households poses a further threat which places an additional burden on the Government to combat – the risk then, in light of those circumstances rises exponentially....
To the extent that the Government has put together its Task Team, has consulted exhaustively with them to ensure the safety of its citizens in order to “flatten the curve” and prevent an already fragile health system from being overwhelmed, I cannot find that the restrictions imposed are either unreasonable or unjustifiable and thus the application must fail.
GroundUp reports on the decision.