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Religious Instruction in State Schools.

Should religious instruction be permitted in New Zealand State Schools?

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The vote is already over! It ended on Wednesday, 30.April 2014 (00:00).

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A parent at Red Beach Primary School has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission over the religious instruction program called 'Values in Action' run by the school. McClintock says that when he picked the school he did so over other schools in the area with religious programs. Despite the school not making it clear that the 'Values in Action' program was religious in nature McClintock was suspicious of the program and attended it himself. It was after seeing the class that he opted his daughter out. After sending written instruction opting out his daughter was still included in religious instruction.

His son is now approaching school age, and while the school has made a minor change to the forms used to seek permission for children to attend religious instruction they have not addressed the discrimination experienced by children who opt out. Children who do not take part were treated in a similar way to detention. Young children feel that they are being punished and have little understanding of why they are being excluded.

Read more: School Target of HRC Complaint

In early April the Minister of Education, the Honourable Hekia Parata replied to a Open Letter sent to her the month earlier. After thanking the Secular Education Network for the letter she begins by stating that "A fundamental aspect of New Zealand's education system is the governance of schools by Boards of Trustees that set policies and procecdures for school management, in consultation with their communities. This includes policies and decisions around religious instruction and observation."


School Boards do have powers to manage their respective schools, however this does not permit Schools to violate the human rights of their students. This was made clear in the Open Letter which stated "It’s not good enough for the Government to endorse religion by proxy, through School Boards, only to step back and wash their hands of any responsibility for the resulting harms. We wish to be able to send our children to school secure in the knowledge that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of religion."


Read more: Minister Responds to Open Letter

Three new schools have been hit by Bible in Schools protests in the past five days, following the successful protest at St Heliers School in Auckland last month.

The first is at Milson School in Palmerston North. On Thursday afternoon (February 27) Belinda Lewer learned in a school newsletter that her youngest child will be placed in a New "Christian Religious Education" Class from March 14, unless she writes to the school asking for him to be opted out. She has written that request, because the classes go against her conscience.


Read more: Three religious instruction classes questioned

The first quarter of 2014 was a roller coast ride for the Secular Education Network, with many schools changing their religious instruction policy in response to complaints from parents. In this review we cover the successes and disappointments from January to march for the Secular Education Network.

Read more: Secular Education Roller Coaster

Recent events at St Heliers School and appearances on TV of parents from the school who took their complaints to the Human Rights Commission have resulted in a storm of responses from those who support religious indoctrination of young children in secular state schools. Rather than reply to individual critics I have prepared a response covering common objections to secular education in New Zealand.

The different terms used to describe the programmes run by evangelical Christian denominations in New Zealand state schools can be confusing. The Christian Education Commission, previously known as the 'Bible In Schools Leage' calls it 'Christian Religious Education' or CRE. Some shorten it further to 'religious education', which creates a misunderstanding that these classes are balanced and objective study of all religions, which is quite the opposite of what they actually are.

I refer to the classes conducted by religious organisations in New Zealand public schools as 'Religious Instruction'. This is the term used in the legislation that allows it to occur in the Education Act 1964, and so should be neutral.

Read more: Response to SEN critics

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