Religious Instruction in NZ state schools

Should our children be taught Christianity (or any other specific religion) in state schools?

If this is of interest to you, read on…

I’ve been invited by David Hines to join the Secular Education Network’s mediation at the Human Rights Commission, in which they are lodging a complaint against the Ministry of Education in an attempt to remove Religious Instruction in state schools. The scheduled date for the mediation is Monday 23 February.

The objectives of this campaign are to:

  • Promote an inclusive school curriculum, which does not require any student to withdraw from class on account of different religious beliefs.
  • Cease the practice of volunteer-run religious instruction during school hours.
  • Treat all religious organisations who wish to use the school facilities outside of the school day with transparent and equitable policies.

The central problem is that Section 78 of the Education Act 1964 which allows state schools to provide up to 60 minutes of RI per week, so long as it’s approved by the Board of Trustees. Much of the demand and curriculum relate to Christianity. Side effects of this policy include children being separated from their peers (with the potential for exclusion and ridicule) on the basis of their religion, the denigration of non-Christian points of view in state schools which should be neutral, and the unfair use of public property and resources for prosylitising.

SEN isn’t against Religious Instruction, it’s just saying that the appropriate place for Religious Instruction is in the places of worship of the concerned communities, not in public schools which are attended by children with an increasingly wide variety of heritages. The SEN position is that it is appropriate for public schools to teach about world religions, but in an inclusive, neutral way that respects diversity, encourages children to express their own beliefs and develops empathy about the beliefs of others.

My own personal perspective can be briefly summarised as: One of the main reasons we’ve sent our three children to state schools is so that they didn’t have to endure Religious Instruction at school, or any of the “alternatives activities” that might single them out for differentiation.

Although I’m not a member of SEN, I’ve been asked to provide a Jewish perspective at the mediation, but I’d be really interested in perspectives from others.

If you would like me to reflect your opinion at the mediation, please comment below, or drop me a line.  If you’re doing the latter, let me know if I can use your name at the HRC mediation.

Thanks in advance for your consideration, and helping Aotearoa/NZ become a more inclusive society.