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Freedom Article
April 2000


In a decision that honors the South African government’s declared commitment to treat all religions equally, the Department of Home Affairs in April granted 12 ministers of the Church of Scientology the right to marry. The decision will legalize all marriages performed by Scientology Ministers and means that Scientology is now fully recognized as a bona fide religion in South Africa.

Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International, said the recognition shows that South Africa has emerged as a leader in establishing the rights of religions.

“South Africans are a deeply spiritual people, and we are delighted that the government has recognized the contribution Scientology can make to the new South Africa,” said Rev. Jentzsch, who delivered a Scientology service to ministers of many faiths at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town in December.

“Official recognition as a religion will assist the Church in fulfilling its mandate to improve society and minister to the spiritual needs of all South Africans — a wish expressed by former President Mandela who called on religions to help the government solve social problems,” said Rev. Jentzsch.

As South Africa emerged from the apartheid era, it began a series of broad reforms in the field of human rights — adopting a new constitution and signing international human rights treaties.

Religious freedom is one aspect of these reforms. Last year, the South African Law Commission recommended that “the matrimonial law should be harmonised with the social changes in South African society and... effect be given to the principles of religious freedom and equal treatment which are contained in the South African Constitution.”

Paul Sondergaard, spokesman for the Church in South Africa, welcomed the recognition as an expression of the government’s determination to protect the rights of minority religions. “In approving the application of our ministers, the government applied the Marriage Act within the framework of a living constitution that prohibits both religious and racial discrimination,” he said.

Mr. Sondergaard also viewed the recognition as an acknowledgement of the work done by the Church’s ministers and their congregation in their communities and in the fields of literacy, drug education and criminal rehabilitation.

During apartheid, Scientologists worked unceasingly to improve the lives of black South Africans, delivering seminars based on the educational principles developed by L. Ron Hubbard to more than a million students. In the mid-1970s, the Church’s human rights journal Freedom uncovered remote “camps” where black psychiatric patients were being held in primitive conditions and exploited as slave labor. Although the apartheid government promptly banned Freedom, the Church took its evidence to the United Nations and the Red Cross. After apartheid collapsed, the new government ordered an enquiry. The enquiry established a charter of rights for psychiatric patients which recently culminated in the broadly promoted charter of patients’ rights for South Africa.

The Church of Scientology in South Africa was founded in 1957 in Johannesburg. Churches of Scientology now exist in Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Capetown and Randburg, where a total of more than 240 ministers and religious staff minister to the spiritual needs of approximately 65,000 parishioners.

The recognition came just three weeks after all Churches of Scientology in Sweden were registered as religious communities by the Swedish government.

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