Māori Party Policy on Religious Instruction in NZ Primary Schools

maori party on religious instruction

The Māori Party don’t have an official policy on religious instruction but they have repeatedly made the same statements regarding consultation with the school community

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 Māori 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?

The Māori Party responded to my question on Scoop’s “Any Questions” website and said this…

No. If parents wish to have their children receive religious instruction then we support the views of the parents.

I responded to them…

Maori Party – if you support children receiving religious instruction in a state school, you’re also supporting religious discrimination against non-religious or non-Christian families whose children are segregated and forced to stop learning the school curriculum because the school closes during bible classes. Effectively, you’re supporting the choice of some parents to discriminate against other parents who don’t share their religious views.

The same day, I got an email from Māori Party co-leaders, Te Ururoa Flavell & Marama Fox…

Date: Tue, Sep 19, 2017
From: Maori Party
To: Dave Smyth

Tēnā koe Dave i ngā āhuatanga o te wā.

Thank you for your email in regards to our policy on religious instruction. Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding.

The Māori Party doesn’t have a specific policy on religious instruction. Any discussion about how schools will approach the teaching and learning of religious expression should be done in consultation with parents and the wider school community.

The Māori Party believes in an inclusive education system where matters pertaining to religious instruction should be done in a Whānau Ora context, the whanau determining the best outcomes for their tamariki.

Heoi anō,

Te Ururoa Flavell
Marama Fox
Māori Party Co-Leaders

While being consistent, this view of community consultation is majorly flawed. I tried to explain this to them. Although, I find it surprising that a political party representing a culture that has historically been democratically discriminated against by a larger cultural majority should suggest allowing the same thing to happen to primary school children with religion! I replied…

Date: Wed, Sep 20, 2017
Dave Smyth
To: Maori Party

Tēnā kōrua,

Thanks for your reply. I expect that you’re very busy at the moment.

There’s a few problems with considering community consultation as an answer to the question of religious instruction.

From the creation of the Education Act in 1877 (when over 90% of NZer’s were Christian), our state primary schools were always intended to be secular, so that children were not subjected to pressure from religious groups. State primary school education was meant to be religiously neutral and welcoming to people of all cultures and religious views. It was only in 1964 that a loophole to allow religious instruction was created in response to pressure from the Anglican Church.

A lot has changed in the last 50 years. We are more culturally and religiously diverse than ever before and as at the 2013 Census, less than half of NZer’s now consider themselves Christian. Affiliation among Māori continues to drop significantly and in the 2013 census, 46.3% of Māori said they had no religious affiliation. This in line with people who identified as Europeans at 46.9% with no religion.

Christianity is no longer the belief system of choice, yet it holds a privileged position in our state primary schools.

I am glad to hear that you believe in an inclusive education system, because religious instruction is far from inclusive. Whānau who are not Christian face a difficult and coercive choice. They either have to stay quiet and accept the religion (always Christianity) that the Board of Trustees foist upon them and their children, or they have to take their kids away from their friends, out of the classroom and expose their views on someone else’s religion. The school is even required to close, and their children are stopped from learning the official curriculum so that some other people’s kids don’t fall behind when they have their bible classes.

So we have to ask ourselves… why do we allow any religious group to promote their beliefs in a primary school that is meant to be secular? If it was a political group trying to do the same thing, would you be happy with that? What if it was National Party ideology classes every Tuesday morning for 8 years of primary school?

There are no rules for how community consultation should happen, how often it should happen, what questions should be asked or how boards of trustees should act on community feedback. I don’t believe that there is even any legal requirement for BOT’s to consult the community. In reality, what happens is that some evangelical Christians get seats on the school board and decide on behalf of the community to promote their own religious views.

Would this be ok if there were people on the board who decided that we don’t need any lessons on Māori culture because they preferred teaching their own culture? Religious Instruction classes teach Christian beliefs as fact. They are not education, they are indoctrination.

Finally… a democratic vote that allows a majority of religious people to discriminate against a minority of non-Christians is a breach of our human rights. I’ve attached some advice from the Ministry of Education legal team that was presented in 2001, but ignored. It says (in section 17) that religious instruction has no defence against a claim of direct discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993.

Community consultation is a great thing for many different purposes. But when it’s a question that means going against the spirit of inclusive education, it’s not a question that should be asked.

Ngā mihi nui
Dave Smyth

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