Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) says it is fuming after the Constitutional Court upheld a ruling on Wednesday that declared corporal punishment at home unconstitutional.
The apex court upheld a 2017 ruling by the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, which declared that it was unconstitutional for parents to use corporal punishment to admonish their children and found that spanking children violated their rights.
Reacting to the unanimous Constitutional Court judgment, FOR SA said the ruling effectively meant "parents who physically correct their children - no matter how light or well-intentioned - will be committing the crime of assault and open themselves up to the full penal machinery of the state".
In a statement, FOR SA attorney Daniela Ellerbeck said the ruling seriously eroded parents' rights to religious freedom.
"It is disturbing, however, that the right of parents to raise their children according to their own convictions and what they believe to be in the best interests of their children, has not been upheld," Ellerbeck said.
"It sets a very dangerous precedent in that the State can dictate to people of faith how to read and live out the scriptures."
Ellerbeck also said the judgment made criminals of many people of faith who believe that the scriptures permit (if not command) them to physically correct their children where necessary, but always out of love.
"For many, they will have no choice but to obey God rather than the law. As a result, good parents of faith who only want what is best for their children, will potentially see their families torn apart as is happening in other countries where physical correction has been banned."
"This will destroy families as the bedrock of our society," she said.
FOR SA added that the organisation was against violence, but that there was a "clear distinction between violence or abuse, and mild (non-injurious) physical correction, as shown by extensive social science research".
However, Save the Children South Africa (SCSA) has welcomed the judgment and called on parents to respect it.
"This is a historic judgment, and a victory in the ultimate bid to end violence against children. As we commemorate heritage month, this judgment reflects on the important legacy that we will leave for children in South Africa," SCSA's child protection programme manager, Divya Naidoo, said.
Naidoo also called for the government's financial investment in positive discipline and parental support interventions.
"As a pathfinder country, we need interventions to educate and raise awareness on positive parenting and to help equip parents with skills to raise their children without using violence and help do away with the belief that corporal punishment is the best solution," Naidoo said.
"Corporal punishment may result in immediate compliance, but it does not lead to self-discipline. Instead, it often results in repeated misbehaviour. Positive discipline, on the other hand, is about guiding and teaching a child to develop understanding, self-discipline and long-term changes in behaviour."