Opaheke School BOT Consider Religious Instruction

teach religion in schools

Like many schools around the country, Opaheke School’s Board of Trustees is in the unenviable position of reviewing religious instruction. No matter what they decide, there will be a group of people who are not happy. So what I suggest is that they throw caution to the wind and base their decision on principles. You know, on what is right and fair. Wild and crazy idea, I know!

The odd thing about religious instruction is that rather than multiple religious sects fighting over access to children, there are really only two camps.

  1. People who think it’s ok to promote their religious faith in schools (Mostly Evangelical Christians).
  2. People who think people who want religion for their kids should go to their church or temple.

Which group do you think has an agenda?

To me, the core question is obvious. Is it the school’s job to promote anyone’s favourite religious views? Look at it this way and the answer seems obvious but Boards of Trustees in tricky situations tend to prefer to abdicate responsibility to a “democratic vote”. Unfortunately, these are usually poorly worded, offer confusing and contradictory questions and split results in a way that makes it hard to get a clear answer. Whatever the result, the decision they make can be blamed on the people that voted a certain way. Let’s be clear, votes do not decide what is right or fair, they decide what is popular. Here are the results of their survey;

opaheke school RI survey results 2019

According to the newsletter that this pie chart came from, there were 137 responses. The votes above total up to 167 responses. So it’s pretty hard to make anything of this when there are a couple of problems;

  • It seems that some people voted twice.
  • One option is a vote on two different things.
  • There was no simple YES/NO vote for religious instruction.
  • Three out of five options allow for continued religious instruction.

As with most school community votes I’ve seen, it is dismaying how many parents see no problem with forcing other parents to opt their children out of a religious class that isn’t meant to be in the school anyway (the “stay as it is” option). These are the same people that think the classes teach good values.

So what will the board do given these fuzzy results? Will they vote based on what is fair for all or go with the parents who think that their religious views should be privileged above all others?

To help the board put things into perspective, I sent them the following overview…

There are three main reasons given for considering religious instruction as an option.

  • Teaching values.
  • Promotion of religious faith.
  • Education about religion.

If teaching values is a concern, then ask if the values teachers are already required to teach as part of the curriculum by the Ministry of Education are being taught. If they aren’t, why not? If they are, then is further values teaching necessary and is allowing a single religious group in and segregating the children by views on religious faith, the best way to teach values?

Religious Instruction is defined by the Human Rights Commission as carrying “… an implicit or explicit endorsement of a particular faith and/or encourages students to engage with and make decisions about accepting it on a personal level.”.  Given that religious instruction is the promotion of a specific religious faith (almost always Christianity), why would a BOT that wanted to encourage the values of diversity and inclusiveness, close a secular school or classroom that is welcoming to children from all religious backgrounds, to allow a religious faith teaching class that inherently discriminates against children and families who hold non-Christian religious views?

Why should parents of other religions or parents with no religion have to ask permission to protect their children from undesirable Christian evangelism in your secular state primary school? It is not the school’s job to encourage any religious views nor provide a captive audience to anyone that wants to.

praise be religious programme
Praise Be! Super fun for kids.

If education about religion is desired, then obviously, a religious instruction class that promotes faith as opposed to the academic study of different religions, does not achieve this. It would be like trying to teach children about music by only watching recordings of “Praise Be”! Religious Education can be an enriching part of a child’s education, leading them to understand other worldviews and other cultures. The Christian-centric religious faith teaching in Bible classes does the opposite.

There is only one question you need to ask yourselves. Should we allow any religious group to promote their beliefs to children in a secular state primary school? If you really think that YES is the answer, then ask yourself; “All religions, or just yours?”.teach religion in schools

Once the Opaheke School BOT make a decision on whether to allow religious privilege or to treat everyone equally, I will update this website!


  1. Excellent post. As well as all the great questions/comments you note, I wonder if it might be useful to let people know of the legislative history.

    Also, NZ isn’t a very litigious place, but I’ve always wondered what would happen if something (physically) bad happened to a child during an RI class when the school is supposedly closed. Who has responsibility for the children if the school is closed? What’s the legal position?

    • Hi Heather. I have considered writing a short history of Religious Instruction in NZ but after doing some research, it’s incredibly convoluted with many different players coming, going and changing names. The legal position would be interesting. I suspect that it would be the same as during the lunch break.

      • I’d find a short history really interesting. Maybe you could sell it on Amazon Kindle and similar. It probably wouldn’t make a lot of money, but perhaps it would help with the finances of the group. I’d buy it.

        I’d really like the legal position to be tested sometime – that is, if it didn’t involve a child being hurt. But I would assume you’re right – it would lunch time.

  2. Can anyone imagine a Sikh, Muslim or Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster group being allowed in to public schools to teach students in “morals and values”? I think not. I believe the government/Ministry has a duty to step in and separate church from state once and for all.

    • In a recent government report, they said that they were aware of only one school in the country teaching Islam. While the principle of allowing religious instruction is wrong, the practical reality is that this is a problem with Christian evangelism.

    • Could you imagine a Pastafarian minister teaching children about the Flying Spaghetti Monster? They would want to know why heaven has a beer volcano and what “strippers” are. Mind you the class would be full if they had to all dress up as pirates.

  3. I have found Pastafari to be the most accommodating, compassionate and aggression-free of any religion I have encountered thus far. R’amen!

  4. As a large number of New Zealanders have indicated in previous Census years that they belong to the Jedi religion, maybe this should be a prime candidate for a new set of religious indoctrination “classes”.

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