Court rules in gay man's favour

2008-08-28 21:12

Pretoria - A Pretoria NG Kerk unfairly discriminated against gay music teacher Johan Strydom when it fired him three years ago, the Pretoria High Court ruled on Thursday.

Judge Dion Basson ordered the Moreleta Park congregation to pay Strydom damages of R87 000 and to apologise unconditionally for its conduct.

He said Strydom's contract was terminated on the basis that he was involved in a homosexual relationship.

The church had not proved that Strydom's job entailed religious instruction or that the discrimination against him had been fair or justified.

The church insisted it had to ensure that people in leadership positions did not set a bad example. The church contended it could not be seen to condone the "sin" of living in a homosexual relationship.

Basson said it would be out of order to employ the sentiments of some as a guide to the constitutional rights of others.

There was not a shred of evidence that Strydom had to teach Christian doctrine as a music teacher. Basson said Strydom had rendered excellent services and his religious beliefs were not questioned until his homosexual relationship came to light.

Discrimination on the grounds of Strydom's sexual orientation had an enormous impact on his right to equality and dignity, Basson said.

The church exacerbated the situation by insisting that Strydom discuss his sexuality with church leaders and walk a "loving road" with them.

This would have entailed inviting him to join the congregation's H2O (Homosexuality to Overcome) programme, which in effect sought to "cure" homosexuals.

Basson said Strydom's dignity had been impaired and the impact on his life was abundantly clear.

He suffered from depression, was unemployed due to the publicity surrounding the case and had to sell his piano and his house.

Congregation leader Dirkie van der Spuy expressed disappointment over the ruling. It would have expected stronger support from the State for the church's right to appoint religious leaders according to its values, van der Spuy said.

He however stressed that the church's doors stood open to all people - also gays, whom the Bible described as sinners.

"We are there for people who want to change. We're not there to force people to change," he said.

Strydom said it had been a privilege to be part of the case. Many people had supported him, and he now wanted to focus on the future and "take the bull by the horns".

Strydom's attorney, James Spies, hailed the ruling as a watershed decision in South African law. He said it showed religious freedom did not enjoy priority above the individual's right to equality.

Van der Spuy said they would first have to study the judgment before deciding on the form of an apology or a possible appeal against the ruling.