Green Party Policy on Religious Instruction in NZ Primary Schools

religious education policy of green party

religious education policy of green partyThe Green Party are of course, known for being an environmentally focused party. However, with what appears to be a steady decline in Labour’s influence, the Greens are a party that is growing in popularity and importance. At the time of writing, the Greens are polling above their 2014 election results and could potentially pick up another couple of seats.

The Greens now have a broad range of policies and are seen less and less as just a vote for the environment. If they can capitalise on this paradigm shift, then I think they have a real chance of usurping Labour as the default choice for left-leaning voters.

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 Green 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?

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything the Greens have to say, I do give them credit for taking a stand on the principles that they believe in and not campaigning on what is most popular (and gets votes) over what they think is the right thing to do. They have a Human Rights Policy that states;

We stand opposed to any discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, political belief, sexuality, marital status, age, disability or socio-economic background.

Their human rights policy goes on to talk about promotion tolerance and valuing ethnic diversity. Clearly, we can’t do this while one religious group is intent on converting kids to their faith through accessing state primary schools! On the basis that religious instruction usually discriminates against non-Christians, I was interested in what they had to say about religious indoctrination in primary schools. Here’s the email that I got from Catherin Delahunty’s Senior Executive Assistant, Himiona Grace.

Date: 20th July 2017
From: Himiona Grace
To: Dave Smyth

Hi Dave

I’m very sorry we missed your email the first time around. It was forwarded to my office but I wasn’t sure if someone had responded to you or not.

We do not so much of an issue with learning about Christianity and other religions in. They are important aspects human history and culture. However, New Zealand history and culture should take precedence over religious studies.

We are opposed to compulsory religious instruction however, and the “opt out” model for non-Christian families. Families should instead be given the option to “opt in” to religious instruction, and that instruction should only occur outside of school, and not be part of the school curriculum. We would need amend the Education Act to do this.

I have passed this on to Catherine Delahunty, our education spokesperson, who can give you more insight and details on our policy. I just wanted to make sure to let you know you’re email has been received and heard.

Let me know if you don’t hear back from Catherine tomorrow and I’ll follow up.

Kind regards

Himiona Grace, Senior Executive Assistant to Catherine Delahunty MP

Spokesperson for Education, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and Fresh Water
Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Greens website offers a lot to be reassured about with regard to religious discrimination. Clearly, they are trying to offer an even-handed approach to all Kiwis, new and old. On the whole, I think that we can be reassured that if the Greens have any say, religion will not gain any further traction in primary schools.

However, I have to wonder how this secular approach sits with candidates (from all parties), who are evangelical Christians. Nicholas Mayne is an evangelical Christian and the Green Party candidate for East Coast Bays. It’s a “God-given” instruction of every evangelical Christian to spread their religious faith. I could never vote for someone who was making decisions by consulting an invisible deity.

Everything we do, we should do from a position of stewardship; stewardship for the creator who has entrusted this world to us and on behalf of the generations that will take responsibility for it after us.

While the Greens have a history of standing against religious instruction, Catherine Delahunty sits on the Education and Science Select Committee, which made many recommendations to curb religious instruction back in 2005 but seems to have completely forgotten about it in the Education Amendment Act Bill this year. I asked about this.

Date: 24th July 2017
To: Himiona Grace
From: Dave Smyth

Hi Himiona,

Thanks for that reply. I also have no problem with children learning about religion from within the school curriculum.

Changing from opt-out to opt-in is certainly an improvement but I don’t think it would necessarily resolve the problem, depending on how the Education Act is amended.

Many primary schools (including my Daughter’s school) already offer some version of an opt-in model. The schools “technically” closes so that the classes can take place. However, because the classes are inside the 9am to 3pm traditional school hours, most kids are still put into the classes because parents don’t want their children to be “different”.

Allowing religious groups access to young children to promote their faith in secular, tax-payer funded primary schools seems wrong under any circumstances. Churches exist for a reason and that is where children can be taught faith if the parents wish. Primary schools should not be used as a pool of potential new recruits.

Allowing “opt-in” religious faith teaching in schools simply means that they would need to improve their marketing. I’m sure that you would disagree with this if it was political parties promoting themselves to children on a weekly basis.

I hadn’t heard from Catherine. As she is a member on the Education and Science Select Committee, I’d be interested to know why that committee did not make any recommendations to repeal sections 77-78 of the Education Act that allows religious groups access to primary school children?

In fact, they made no recommendations at all regarding religious instruction in state primary schools, despite submissions on this that they could have considered. This is in stark contrast with a report by the same committee in 2005 to the Ministry of Education making extensive recommendations that would remove religious instruction from the normal school day. These recommendations were completely ignored.

Dave Smyth

Date: 27th July 2017
To: Dave Smyth
From: Catherine Delahunty

Hi Dave, thanks for writing back to my office. I can see your point about opt in solution – I think some schools with Boards dominated by pro religious views would promote this to parents. We probably need a law change to clarify the secular nature of our education system. During the Education Update Bill there were hundreds of submissions but I do not recall a focus on religious instruction by submitters asking us to remove these clauses – it was a huge Bill but as someone who has been in touch with the Secular Education Group I am surprised if I missed it. I apologise.

To deal with this issue properly we do need a campaign to inform parents about the issue and looking at the Select Committee currently you might only have Green allies, not sure.
I am leaving Parliament in 4 weeks so I am not able to run a campaign and despite my agreement with you I have not prioritised it because we are defending the survival of public education and fighting assessment obsession, it’s been very intense. However the new Green Education spokesperson, whoever that maybe, will be worth contacting to keep this issue in front of us.


Date: 27th July 2017
To: Dave Smyth
From: Catherine Delahunty

Hi Catherine,

Thanks for the reply. The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (who created the Secular Education Network) put in a proposal to remove religious instruction. I agree with you that public education is under threat. If we head down the road the US is taking we open up education to all sorts of agendas.

Thank you for your support on removing religious instruction in the past and best of luck for the future.

Dave Smyth

So the Greens seem pretty steady on the subject of religious instruction. It really does seem like the more traditional parties are the only ones not actually thinking about this issue!

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