A High Court judge in Johannesburg has outlawed state-funded single-faith schools in South Africa, following a human rights case brought by the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy.

The court found that it was unlawful for a public school to promote adherence to one particular religion, to the exclusion of others, or to hold that it promotes the interests of any religion above any others. 

However, the ruling does not create a truly secular education system in South Africa. Children can, and will, for example, still be required to participate in collective worship in many schools run by religious officials.

Jacques Rousseau, who runs the Free Society Institute, which like Humanists UK is a member organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, cautioned that it will take future legal rulings to address, for example, pupils’ right to opt out of collective worship.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman, commented, ‘This decision by South Africa’s High Court represents a giant leap towards an inclusive education system for the country. It means that pupils of all religions and beliefs will now be educated together, when before they may have been divided.

‘Just as in the Republic of Ireland, which announced this week that it is abolishing religious selection by Catholic schools, now we see South Africa leapfrog the UK in ensuring its schools are inclusive. We urge the UK, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish governments to take notice, as the UK is increasingly being left behind.’