When I asked all the main political parties about their policies on religious instruction in NZ state primary schools, Nikki Kaye, Minister for Education did not reply (she did later on, so keep reading). Neither did the National Party office. So who to ask?
I managed to get in touch with Todd Muller (Member for Bay of Plenty), who sits on the Education and Science Select Committee who recently reviewed the Education Act Amendment Bill. Unfortunately, the bill did not include a review of the 1964 Act, which is what allows religious groups access into state primary schools. However, I asked Todd about submissions that were made on religious instruction and he replied as follows. Note that while this is not official party policy, it seems to be in line with the previous education minister’s attitudes.
National seem to feel they’re a shoo-in for this election. The response I got was pretty arrogant and dismissive. This was a Facebook message conversation.
Dave Smyth – 25 JULY 11:31
I understand that you are a committee member on the Education and Science Select Committee, that recently reviewed submissions on the Education Act.
There were submissions that requested changes to sections 77-78 of the Education Act 1963 to revoke the right of boards of trustees to close the school so that religious faith teaching can take place within a secular state primary school.
This is clearly a discriminatory practice, where parents of primary school children are forced to either allow their kids to be indoctrinated into a religion they may not agree with or alternatively, opt their kids out of a class and have them segregated from their classmates and risk them being stigmatized.
Why was this not addressed? Why are religious groups allowed access to promote their religious faith to young children in a secular state primary school?
Todd Muller MP – 26 JULY 16:04
Hi Dave, Thanks for taking the time to write to me via Facebook. I appreciate you have strong views on this topic that may differ from my own. The committee listened to a wide range of submissions on this issue and collectively landed on the changes that were made. As a committee member I am comfortable with where we landed.
Dave – 26 JULY 16:04
Hi Todd. Thanks for responding. The lack of action on this means that my daughter has to stop learning the school curriculum if the board of trustees decide that promotion of a particular religion is a good idea. This is discrimination by a vote put to a handful of people. How can you justify this within our secular school system?
By the way, it’s not a matter of how strong my views are. I’m not trying to replace Christian religious indoctrination with any other religion or atheist teaching. This is not an attack on Christians, it’s a defence against Christian evangelism in state primary schools.
Todd Muller MP – 26 JULY 17:41
I appreciate your perspective Dave, and entirely understand the argument you are making, but I am comfortable with where the committee collectively landed.
Dave – 27 JULY 10:10
I understand that you are comfortable with this decision. However, this is not just my view. The legal team of the Ministry of Education stated that religious instruction has no defence against a claim of direct discrimination back in 2001. The Education and Science Select Committee made recommendations in 2005 to have it removed from school hours.
So my question remains… Why do you believe that religious groups should be allowed access to promote their religious faith to young children in a secular state primary school?
Predictably, there was no response to my final question. There very rarely is from people trying to defend the status quo. It’s pretty clear that Todd thinks religious instruction is ok. You could say that he’s comfortable with it! He just can’t justify it. What do you think?
Nikki Kaye eventually managed to respond to my original email. Here’s her answer. I’m not totally convinced by the claim that the case before the Human Rights Tribunal limits her ability to respond. They are so far behind in processing cases that it could be years before it is heard. There’s an IHC case that has been waiting for a hearing date since 2009!
From: Nikki Kaye
To: Dave Smyth
Date: 18th September 2017
Thanks for your email. There is a case currently before the Human Rights Commission which limits my ability to comment as a Minister, The current state of play is that, as you say. the Education Act sets the parameters for religious instruction and observances in state primary schools:
- when a state primary school is open for instruction, the teaching must be entirely secular
- schools are permitted to close for up to 60 minutes per week, and no more than 20 hours in the school year, for the purposes of religious instruction/observance
- volunteers can provide religious instruction/observance on school grounds only when the school is closed; and
- student participation in religious instruction/observances is voluntary and parents can opt their child or children out at any time.
Any religious instruction in primary schools must be approved by the board of trustees. Schools may not discriminate against their students on the grounds of their religious belief or lack of it.
Secondary schools are free to operate religious instruction and observances as they choose provided this accords with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993. The legislation only applies to state primary and intermediate schools. However, it is good practice for boards in all schools to consult their school communities before introducing any religious instruction programmes.
There are a number of providers of religious instruction in New Zealand. We do not endorse any of the providers or the material they use because religious instruction is not a curriculum subject.
Thanks again for your email.
I’m pretty sure that Nikki wouldn’t be thrilled to see a state school promoting the Labour party to kids after a community consultation, so why is religion any different? I asked her but don’t expect a response!
From: Dave Smyth
To: Nikki Kaye
Date: 18th September 2017
Thanks for your email. I appreciate you must be crazy-busy at the moment!
I’m familiar with all those laws. However, in this case, the law is an ass. The Ministry of Education legal team identified religious instruction as having no defence against a claim of direct discrimination under the Human Rights Act back in 2001. (See attached document, section 17)
Would it be appropriate for a school to promote one political party to children after consulting with their community? I think not. Religion is no different.
From: Nikki Kaye
To: Dave Smyth
Date: 19th September 2017
Thanks for the feedback Dave, if I am re-elected I will formally come back to you once I have had a good look at the document.
Have you checked where the other parties stand on religious instruction?