Tebbe on the Constitutionality of Witchcraft in South Africa

Nelson Tebbe (Brooklyn Law School) posted Witchcraft and the Constitution. The abstract follows. –JKH

Witchcraft beliefs and related practices are complex social phenomena that present difficult challenges for South African lawmakers who are bound by their constitution and committed to upholding its values. In this chapter of an edited volume from the University of Cape Town Press, I focus on certain constitutional questions raised by existing policies and current proposals. In some respects, the constitutional issues are easier than might be supposed. For example, Parliament may punish violence against suspected witches, even with laws that specifically address religiously motivated murder and assault. Also, citizens may believe that occult forces exist, and that those forces are being manipulated by jealous or malevolent neighbors. More constitutionally problematic are calls for educational campaigns that would “demystify” witchcraft beliefs, or proposals for laws that would prohibit certain rituals related to witch naming. Regardless of the resolutions, these sorts of constitutional issues deserve a place in the public debate.

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