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Religious Freedom in South Africa
The Constitution of South Africa guarantees religious freedom and the equal treatment of religions, and government policy actively seeks to sustain and promote religious and cultural diversity. Although over 80 percent of the population is Christian, this apparent homogeneity masks the great variety among members of this group. This is in part a consequence of the fact that there are no registration requirements for religious communities, facilitating the emergence of local churches. Thus, in addition to several mainline Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church, there are over four thousand Independent African Churches, with a total membership of over ten million people. There are also sizeable Hindu and Muslim communities, and smaller Jewish and Buddhist ones. Social discrimination is rare, and typically limited to isolated incidents that are quickly condemned by both political and religious leaders. There are, however, some areas of contention. The Constitution’s distinct clauses protecting religion and culture create ambiguity about the status of practices associated with traditional religions. Legal controversies over traditional religious practices, including a prominent case regarding animal sacrifice in 2007, have often been framed in terms of cultural rights, rather than religious rights, raising questions about whether this affords them sufficient, or perhaps excessive, protection from government interferences.