ACT Party Policy on Religious Instruction in NZ Primary Schools

The ACT Party have declined in influence over the past few years but are still very vocal on social issues. Robin Grieve is on the ACT Party board of trustees and is the candidate for Whangarei. Given their right-wing leanings, I didn’t expect that they would be keen to take a strong stand on removing religious instruction. It looks like they are following the party line from 2014, where they talk about choice for all with increasing numbers of charter and partnership schools. What this boils down to is more taxpayer funding for religious schools.

I asked all the main political parties what their policies were on religious instruction in NZ State Primary Schools. You can find link to the other party policies here. Read on to find out what the ACT Party thinks about this issue. Here’s the questions I asked them…

I would like to know what your party’s policy is regarding religious instruction in state primary schools.

Currently, religious instruction (teaching religious faith) is allowed to be taught in primary schools for up to 20 hours per year under sections 77-80 of the Education Act 1964. During this time, the school is “closed” and children who opt out are required to stop curriculum learning.

Non-Christian families are forced to declare their lack of affiliation with Christian religion and opt-out or go along with their children being taught religious beliefs that they don’t agree with so that their children “fit in”.

This is religious discrimination and needs to be stopped. What will your party do about it?

Date: 24th July 2017
From: Robin Grieve
To: Dave Smyth

ACT is opposed to State involvement in religion. We would like NZ to be a secular society. As NZ is currently a Christian country officially  (they say a prayer in Parliament for example) switching to a secular society will involve some law changes as you illustrate. We would support that so that all religions can have equal status and those who wish to can observe whatever religion they like as long as it is within the rule of law and does not effect those who do not observe it.

Regards Robin

Like many (perhaps most) people, Robin has an exaggerated impression of Christian influence in New Zealand.  It’s well documented that Christianity has been in rapid decline in NZ since the 1960’s. Even amongst people who call themselves Christian on census forms, the large majority of those are not practicing Christians. The 2018 census could see the number of Christians fall below those who have no religion.

Date: 25th July 2017
From: Dave Smyth
To: Robin Grieve

Hi Robin,

Thanks for the reply. NZ has never officially been a Christian country. We have no state church or religion and Christianity has been in decline for decades. Less than half of NZer’s considered themselves Christians in the 2013 census.

The problem is that via the Education Act, the Government is endorsing religious influence in secular state primary schools.

The Education Act 1877 declared our primary schools to be secular and it was only due to pressure from churches that the act was updated in 1963, to allow schools to officially close so that religious instruction could take place. Now we have this ridiculous situation, where parents of children attending a secular state school are forced to choose whether or not to opt out of Christian faith teaching classes. Children are then segregated based on this parental choice. Many parents I’ve spoken to don’t like the classes but keep their kids in them so they are not bullied or made to feel “different”.

Boards of Trustees who promote these classes are essentially pushing religious discrimination into our primary schools to further their own religious faith. While the law currently affords all religions equal status under the law, in practice, this means that classes are inevitably bible-based, Christian faith teaching.

Sadly, I’ve experienced nothing but wilful ignorance from every government department associated with the education sector, from school staff, right up to the Ministry of Education, who have refused to take any action. The Human Rights Commission are also silent on this issue and have avoided any comment, despite involvement in high profile court cases, where they did nothing.

Regardless of their parent’s beliefs, primary school children all over the country are forced to stop learning the school curriculum so that some selfish adults can preach their religious faith for up to 20 hours a year. I agree with you about freedom of religion but this should not mean the freedom to impose religion.


Unfortunately, Robin never responded to my last email. (But you can see a response from him in the comments below) I don’t see how ACT can be opposed to state involvement in religion and not be against religious instruction in a state school. Doesn’t make sense does it?

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  1. ” I don’t see how ACT can be opposed to state involvement in religion and not be against religious instruction in a state school. Doesn’t make sense does it?”
    Actually it does. State religion would be for example the Church of England as opposed to say the Catholic church, Methodists or Baptists. State involvement means either endorsing one particular church denomination over others or even telling churches what they consider religion to be.
    Having religious instruction in schools is part of education. Children should learn what the bible says and the essential elements of other religions. Today that needs to be done by relating what the key texts state from that religion, especially in the case of Islam, which employs many deceptive tactics to cover up what its basic texts (Koran, Hadith and Sunna) teach. Such as the killing, sexual enslavement and subjugation of non-muslims.
    Students may have no religious belief but that does not mean they should not learn about religious belief. Many students do not believe that exercise is healthy, but that does not mean they should not participate in physical education.

    • If ACT do not want the state involvement in religion, then they should oppose religious instruction in state schools. While the Ministry of Education allow state schools to “close” and provide facilities that just happen to contain children with young, impressionable minds in them at the time, it is very hard to honestly claim that there is no state involvement in religion. Turning a blind eye to religious zealots accessing children in state schools is involvement.

      Religious Instruction by definition is not education, it is indoctrination in religious faith. That is why the school has to technically close. Religious Education is academic, unbiased education about religion, which is what we should have for older children.

  2. Dave I did not respond further to your email because I thought I had said all that needed to be said. ACT does not support State involvement in religion. That is all the information you need to understand our policy. I will eleaborate for you with the risk of stating the obvious. We want a secular society and we do not want them saying a prayer in Parliament and we do not want children being taught a religion they and their parents do not wish them to be taught. If a school wants to set itself up as a partnership school and teach its religion that is fine. Parents who do not want that will not send their children there. In State schools it is simple they should not teach religion,
    Robin Grieve

    • Hi Robin,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment further.

      Your original email to me could be interpreted as supporting the status quo, as all religions already have equal rights under the law regarding religious instruction classes and people are free to follow whatever religion they choose.

      However, the reality of religious instruction is that Christian evangelicals have used their positions on boards of trustees to further their own personal religious agendas. Removing religious instruction (and observances) in state schools would require repealing sections 77-78 of the Education Act 1964. Unless that is done, children can continue to be indoctrinated in religious faith, as the school is technically closed and the Ministry of Education do not consider they have any responsibility for what happens “outside school”.

      As an aside… isn’t taxpayer support of religious partnership schools the same as state involvement in religion?

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