On the weekend, the NZ School Trustees Association had their annual conference. The NZSTA exists to “provide a range of services to all boards of trustees to support and enhance boards’ capability in governance and employment“. Given that Religious Instruction is still able to be legally imposed within a normal secular school day by “technically closing” the school for up to an hour a week, you might think that this isn’t particularly contentious.
However, the NZSTA has;
- Previously refused to explain why they support the inclusion of religious instruction.
- Consistently suggested ways continue to offer religious instruction rather than recommending that it be removed.
Attendees at the annual conference had a lunch sponsored by Launchpad (previously, the Churches Education Commission), who is the largest provider of Bible in Schools classes in the country. Launchpad’s aim is to insert themselves into secular state primary and intermediate schools in order to promote Christian faith to children. The NZSTA included Launchpad promotional material in the registration packs and also required attendees to get a stamp from the Launchpad exhibit in order to enter a prize draw.
Clearly, the NZSTA seem far more concerned with how best to allow religious evangelism in our secular schools rather than how best to remove it.
Ironically, the lunch sponsored by Launchpad was immediately preceded by keynote presentations from the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins and the Human Rights Commissions, Meng Foon.
The Human Rights Commission was involved in a high court case seeking to force a review of religious instruction legislation, which was considered by the plaintiffs to be discriminatory. The only reason this court case didn’t proceed is because of a government-initiated review of the legislation that shifted the goalposts.
It was Chris Hipkins who initiated the review of religious instruction, which ultimately prevented children from being automatically opted into Bible in Schools classes. Despite a large majority of submissions calling for the removal of religious instruction altogether, the legislation allowing secular schools to close for religious evangelism was only watered down and not redacted.
The NZSTA also made a submission on Religious Instruction, which went to great lengths to point out the many issues with discrimination when closing a secular school to promote religious faith but then (strangely) went on to make recommendations to continue allowing it. You can read the NZSTA submission, starting on page 75 of this PDF.