Respecting individual religious autonomy at secular public universities in South Africa


  • Werner Nicolaas Nel



Human rights, freedom of conscience, COVID-19, vaccination mandate, conscientious objection, reasonable accommodation, ubuntu


The implementation of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies by several South African public universities highlighted the interpretive struggles of a secular polity regarding freedom of religion or conscience. Such workplace policies relied on the claim that society’s collective interests took precedence over the individual’s constitutional rights. In essence, the policies allowed for accommodating conscientious objectors, but in reality, the conditions for ob- jection went beyond prioritizing collective interests and neglected the constitutional duty to protect human rights. This article examines how the restrictive vaccination policies of public universities reveal the shortcomings in secular polity’s engagement with and appreciation for individual religious self-determination.

Author Biography

Werner Nicolaas Nel

Dr Werner Nicolaas Nel is senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg. He is author of the monograph Grievous religious persecution: A conceptualisation of crimes against humanity of religious persecution (2021).