How Often Are Religious Instruction Classes Abusive?

religious instruction bible class child abuse

religious instruction bible class child abuseBeing involved with the Secular Education Network, I hear more than my fair share of stories from parents where the trust that they and the school places in Bible class teachers is simply not warranted.  I have friends whose child went home in tears after being told that Santa didn’t exist and another who went home terrified after being told about hell.  The people promoting Bible classes swear blind that there are strict guidelines Bible teachers must follow, such as; “Be respectful of other beliefs and don’t talk about sin, heaven or hell” but this seems to be ignored on a regular basis. Regardless of these self-imposed rules, how is promoting one particular religious view in a secular school ever respectful of others’ beliefs? Religious instruction is full of contradictions!

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how often religious instruction goes wrong, as the Ministry of Education do not review it or keep track of complaints made to schools. Below are a collection of comments from people I don’t know and have never met. They were collected over a few days after media reports came out about issues over religious instruction at a school in Wellsford (North Auckland). And also at Khandallah School (Wellington) where they allowed Arise Church members into their school at lunchtime to run a “Bible Club” under their revised clubs policy. It turns out that one of the board of trustees members, Rick Teal, is a member of and was a pastor with Arise Church.  According to my investigations, he also has close ties to church management. (stay tuned!) This reminds me of the case of the pastor in Oamaru who gloated about infiltrating his local school. Note that these comments are from the general public and not parents of children at Khandallah School.

It should not be forgotten that Arise Church have a stated agenda to “spread the word” and are one of the most fundamentalist evangelical churches in the country. Arise Church is also a successful financial enterprise that receives in excess of $10million a year in donations.  What sort of board of trustee member would consider it ethical to allow adults access to a secular primary school when their intent is to spread their religious views? The video below was put together by an ex Arise Church member to show how they view Bible in Schools. (go full screen to read the comments in the video)

Parents are kept in the dark

It is no exaggeration to say that parents are often kept in the dark and fed bullshit about religious instruction classes. Schools have no legal requirement to tell parents that classes are running, no one is required to review the curriculum and there is no Ministry of Education oversight. Often, the classes are promoted as a “values class”… something that teachers are already required to teach as part of the curriculum.

Our kids were 5 and 6 at the time.  They had grown up in a completely atheist whanau.  But one day, we here them say “amen” from their rooms when they are having their dinner and go investigate, and they are on their knees in prayer.  I said who taught you that?  They said the people who came to our school.  I asked, what was that?  Praying, they said.  Who were you praying to?  Jesus, the older one said.  “That’s God’s son” the younger one piped up.  My blood boiled for them to have been taught actual theology like the trinity or the necessity of prayer at a so-called secular institution. – Facebook

When your 6 year old child comes home from school with Christian homework about Jesus instead of maths, reading and writing, and tells you he has to do it or he will get in trouble (After you’ve opted him out twice) then comes to me 3 weeks later after being opted out a 3rd time, sad and saying mummy you’re going to hell for not being married to daddy…. yeah let’s just say the school had to make some changes and my son was not allowed to attend school until after their religious stuff was over each week. They at first claimed it was part of the curriculum, and that he has to participate, but when I threatened to call the education board to check that fact they back tracked and stated the school is officially closed when they run it. It’s no wonder I’m anti Christian teaching in schools.. teach religions of the world! Create open minds! – V.C. Facebook

… had no idea my daughter was attending anything but a religion class for months until she came home with a laminated verse stating to me definitively: “I believe in God, do you?” – C.M. Facebook

Opt-out kids are treated as less important

Because the agenda of a Bible class is to promote one particular religious view, children who are opted out of these classes are often given second-class citizen experiences. Told to sit in the library, provided with a cobbled together values session or in worst case scenarios, given activities that are more like a punishment, such as; sitting alone, picking up rubbish or doing extra school work.

All the other kids got lollies and I didn’t, the person looking after the non RE kids felt so bad she bought us lollies. Don’t bring brain washing into primary schools, they’re too young to know what’s right and wrong. – G.D Facebook

Many years ago when my son was in his first years at school I didn’t want him to have religious (Christian) instruction but my sister who was a teacher said to not take him out because it would make him different. – B.G. Facebook

Only one of the boys parents wrote him a note to get out of it, but he was forced to extra maths so no one else spoke up. – S.D. Facebook

My 5yr old was stuck out in the hallway. They often forgot she was there. Sometimes she sat there for the whole afternoon. – Comment on Stuff by Jaffaffaj (source)

Jews to the left, Christians to the right. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end to this disgrace in State Schools. My son was directly effected by this issue. His school placed him in the library at 9am, whilst the CEC “instructors” gave children who attended sweeties, games to play and indoctrinated their 7 year old minds with their “values”. How this practice can continue in state schools in the 21st century is beyond me. There are perfectly good schools for children to learn Christianity. They’re called Sunday School and you’ll find them at you local church every Sunday.  – H.E. Facebook

Bible Teachers often go off the rails

When there is no official overview or review of the church volunteers coming into the classroom, the quality of experience can be very poor. Often it’s just the nice old lady from the church coming into the class to indoctrinate the kids in her religion but sometimes, it can be pretty crazy!

I tried to pull by daughter out of similar classes at my local school. The person teaching them was of extreme religious beliefs who used objectionable terms about members of other faiths. Every couple of weeks I’d find the person involved had told my daughter she had to attend and I’d have to write again to the school asking for her to be excluded. This went on for two terms, in the end I kept my daughter out of school the morning the session was on and would bring her in at lunchtime. This meant she missed other classes but it was only option we had. Comment on Stuff by PistonBlown (source)

I was taught bible studies in primary school. Volunteers (a husband and wife, who were parents of three kids at the school) would come in every Wednesday and teach for an hour. It wasn’t monitored by teachers. I remember trying to ask a question once and they belittled me by implying I was stupid for not accepting that particular story. They mocked other kids as well. It really fostered a dislike for religion in me and to this day I have little respect for Christians. It was mandatory, had it been optional I doubt many kids would have gone.
Kendall16 – Comment on Stuff

I was sent to the headmaster’s office at Havelock North Primary School as punishment for saying I didn’t believe in god during RI – Q.W. Facebook

The Religious classes at my primary school were what pushed me away from religion. The people that taught us were actual nutjobs who should not have been allowed near children. One woman told us how she stole things and was molested by her uncle before Jesus saved her. That’s not shit you tell 10 year old kids. – Reddit (source)

My son got kicked out of religious study for asking for proof on everything – K.M. Facebook

The God group that holds a ‘JAM’ (Jesus And Me) session on lunch breaks tried bribing my daughter (and others) with lollies the first time and cookies another time to attend. – K.W. Facebook

A few years ago, my daughter’s school use to do religious studies. My daughter came home one day and told me that I wasn’t her mother and that God was. When asked who told her that, she said the bible teacher. Let’s say I ended those studies quick smart. – C.G. Facebook

I was naive regarding these lessons in primary schools, until my year two son arrived home with a colouring page with a caption along the top which said Only God Loves You.. I was also told that there would be no prayers, wrong. – Comment on Stuff by K Jones222 (source)

My 7 year old soon came home from school and told me he wanted to die. I asked him why and he told me the teacher, had told the whole class that everything was free. A child asked if Hot Wheels Cars were free and the teacher said yes. I went absolutely mad with his school and removed him from Bible Studies. My suggestion is if you want a religious education, go to a place of worship. – Comment on Stuff by gangstamacgenius (source)

We had the same issue with our son when he was at Sanson school he had religon every thrusday for a hr so we pulled him out for that one lesson ,but the crazy religous nutter starting waiting for him after the glass finished. – H.K. Facebook

This came up at my kids primary school a few years back. My preference was to get rid of it altogether but the fundies threatened to vote out the board and put their own canidates forward in the next upcoming election. When the board put forward an opt-in only option they threatened to stop their voluntary support of the Breakfast Club that got underprivledged kids a decent breakfast. They were not happy not having unfettered access to our children to spread their doctrine. It was never about teaching and the quicker it’s out the better. Comment by Finndego on Reddit (source)

I pulled my son out of religious study after he came home very upset because the “teacher” told them that only those who believe in Jesus would go to heaven. – P.N. Facebook

My son was bullied by the RI instructors because his name is Odin, 2 years of it and the kid never once got picked for any of their”fun” activities or to get a treat from the bribe bag. – F.J. (Facebook)

Schools don’t take responsibility

And what happens when it goes wrong? The schools seem to write it off as a “one-off”… oh it’s extracurricular … what the community wanted… the parents voted. It’s just more of the same bullshit excuses. The Board of Trustees and the school administration are there to protect children within the school. Not close the non-religious school their parents chose for their children to provide access to (quite frankly, predatory) adults who are keen to promote their religious faith. You can’t vote to remove the rights of children to a secular education in a secular school and still think you hold the moral high ground. If parents want religion for their children, then they should go to church.

When i questioned my kids school about what religions their “religious studies” studied… they said “Christianity”.  that was it.  so i took my kids out of the class.  While growing up, i taught them about all religions not just the one as truth that the school wanted to do!.  In our multicultural society why do they still insist on pushing christianity down kids throats as the one and only religion??? We were not even asked if we wanted our kids to do bible in schools. We only found out when our kids started saying weird stuff about Jesus. At first there was no alternative class so it was really difficult for us having to pick our kids up each week while the school “closed” for bible lessons. – Comment on Stuff by Jo Scott (source)

My 7 year old daughter was skipping dangerously close to the kerb on her way home from school. I told her to stay on the path.  She said, “That’s ok, my bible teacher said God would save me.”  Thanks a lot Bibles in Schools. – Comment on Stuff by Ged (source)

My parents didn’t care enough to withdraw me from classes, but the parents that did care enough, their kids were viewed as weird. I remember other kids laughing at them when they left class and were sent to the Library or their parents were there to pick them up for lunch. – Reddit (source)

Every bible study lesson my mother would pick me up from school, we would go sit somewhere nice for an hour eat a pie and talk about a subject of my choice all because school refused to give me an alternative class to do and would make me sit outside the principal’s office for that hour . – Reddit (source)

Unfortunately, only Reddit will let me link directly to the comments I’ve quoted above. However, the quotes came from comments on the following pages and also from comments on the same articles Stuff shared on Facebook.



  1. Hi People, will you be open and fair enough to post my comment?

    I have been a teacher of Bible in Schools (as we call it) for about 20 years now, and have only seen good come out of it. I have brought up three boys, two of whom were born with severe disabilities. I teach the school children about God’s love for them because I have experienced how God’s love helped me to survive an impossible situation. I know it works. Until I attended a prayer group and came to know Jesus Christ, I was depressed and without hope. Then my life started to change, and I became happy, and I was given the strength and insight to go down a difficult road.
    Whenever I go to the school the children are really happy to see me, and very happy to hear what we have to teach. They love to know they are special to God, and it is wonderful to see the grounding it gives them.

    The curriculum is related to the classroom curriculum, and supports many of the strands the teachers are teaching, The teachers are happy with it too. I don’t ridicule children, I accept all their answers. There is nothing to fear with prayer….and I don’t force them to pray. They can sit quietly and listen, and if they want to they can agree by saying Amen. But they usually do agree, cos its real simple things like Please bless us and protect us, bless the teachers, our families and pets. And we give thanks for the teachers, parents, families, pets, houses to live in, food to eat, clothes to wear. Now if there was no power in the prayer, then nothing would happen, and no harm would be done, you would have nothing to fear. And if there is power then receiving blessing is something really good, and only good can come of it.
    Learning to be thankful and appreciative for something is very helpful to us as we grow up. I bet your own children would benefit from being thankful, so why would you want to stop them learning this skill.
    We also already have Maori Karakia in our curriculum, praying to God, Atua and giving thanks for their food.
    Our country has had Christian origins and beliefs since the first missionaries arrived over 200 years ago. Our way of life, and our laws are based on the 10 commandments,and bible. Many people come here because it is such a lovely country, “Godzone” as it is often called. I believe we are to pass on our heritage, It’s what makes us who we are as a nation, and why should we have to teach what other countries believe…they are coming here to us!
    They have chosen our way of life!. Would a muslim country teach Christianity in schools to be fair to Christians? Not at all…indeed their Koran says to kill anyone who is not supporting of their beliefs. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. In contrast we are teaching children the concepts of forgiveness, treating others as they would like to be treated, and those things are very beneficial in their lives.
    We need to be very careful as a nation that we don’t lose what is so special here. Please, I ask you, don’t destroy something that brings so much good, for the sake of a few who are not representative of the whole picture. What you are doing is like trying to cancel all sport in NZ because there a few children who hate sport, and some who have been embarrassed by playing sport. It’s not the sport that causes the problem, in this case, its the individual’s reaction to it. A parent could argue they don’t believe in sport, and refuse them to attend sport lessons at school, but is this in the best interest of the child?
    In this situation trying to destroy everyone’s sporting future because of an individual’s response would be ludicrous.
    I gave this example because I hated sport at school. The answer wasn’t to attack the system…the answer came in the form of a sports teacher who
    understood my fear, took me under her wing, and taught me to swim, and play hockey. I later won my swimming race, and was reserve for the A hockey team.
    My husband taught me badminton, and I won a doubles championship. I love playing sport now.
    It’s not until a person has experienced the difference that knowing Jesus Christ makes to their life that they can make a fair judgement.
    I have to wonder what has happened to these people who reject christianity to make them so sure that God doesn’t exist? How many funerals have I been to where the people are so reassured to say their loved one is with other family members, or in heaven.

    • Hi Jane. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I am glad that you have found value in the beliefs you have and the path you have chosen. However, those are your choices, that you have made as an adult and the religious faith you have should not be promoted within a secular (non-religious) state school. I have chosen not to attend church myself, not to take my children there, not to put them into a religious school and not to teach them religious faith. I then enrolled them in a secular school. Surprise! Apparently, all the other choices I have made for my children were not enough to avoid religion and now they have to be opted out of a religious instruction lesson imposed on the school by Christian parents who consider that other people should have the same religious views as they do.

      Children enjoying the class does not justify it. How about we let a marketing company go into the class and teach them that the best hydration method is to drink Coca-Cola and that McDonalds is a healthy nutritious meal? They could hand out stickers, play games, tell stories, dress up… the kids would love it. So you see, how much kids enjoy something is no justification for it.

      The RI curriculum has nothing to do with the official curriculum. The CEC has tried to loosely associate it with the values that the Ministry of Education requires teachers to promote as part of the official curriculum. If you know the values, you might notice that they left out a couple. They are inclusiveness and diversity. Many teachers are not at all happy with it. However, they are between a rock and a hard place and few are willing to risk their jobs and make life more difficult by fighting it. The wording in your teacher manual is something like “if you agree with what is in the lesson, you can pray with me”. So the children have to disagree with an adult authority figure and determine the actual purpose of the lesson in order to decide not to pray. I would think that few 5 years olds, struggling with forming letters still, have developed the capacity to logically separate the lesson on “being kind” from the promotion of a divine being in the same classroom. The “power” in the prayer is not the issue because I believe there is none. What is dangerous is the indoctrination of children to believe that they can ask for magical help that they will receive if they love god enough. It is a shameless manipulation of young minds. Children can learn gratitude without connection to gods.

      Our country’s origins are rooted much deeper in Maori animism and spiritual beliefs, that Christians have co-opted for their own use. The assumption that Karakia are a Christian prayer is one example. I have no problem with teaching the history of our country including early Maori spiritual beliefs and later Christian influence but that does not require the teaching of Christian faith. You also assume that Maori are Christian when the fact is that only around half of Maori identify as Christian and thaat Christian affiliation is dropping as fast among Maori as it is among Pakeha. We are not a Christian country. Less than half of us are Christian. Our schools, government and legal system are secular.

      The assumption that all that is good comes from Christian religion is fatally flawed. The recent investigations around the world into child abuse within the Catholic and Anglican churches are an obvious example. There are many Biblical beliefs that I consider to morally repugnant. The subjugation of women and willingness to worship a human sacrifice are two that stand out.

      No one is trying to ban the bible or ban religion. It is, has, and will always be available on any given Sunday at churches all over the country. Do not be so arrogant as to think that non-Christians need your religion in order to teach our children good values. I would like to see lessons in the official curriculum teaching empathy, logic, critical thinking, ethics and philosophy. Our children are not jugs to be filled with Christian faith. They deserve to learn how to think before you try and teach them what to think. It has nothing to do with what people like or don’t like.

      Finally, I don’t claim to be sure that no gods exist. I simply see no reason to believe they exist. Your feelings about your beliefs may give you and many others comfort but so do the feelings other people have about different gods. Feelings are not a reliable path to truth. I cannot find comfort in reassuring fantasies.

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