Despite legislation changes in August 2020 that require schools to gain signed authority from parents to opt their children in to religious instruction classes (Section 58, Education & Training Act 2020), some schools are still asking parents to opt their children out of Bible in Schools programs. One such school had a notice on their website as follows;
“If you do not wish your children to attend these classes, please inform the Office…”
The (unacknowledged) intention is that if parents are required to take action to remove their children, they are less likely to do so. Most parents go out of their way to avoid bothering the school office and the cringe factor of going against the approved religious preferences of the Board of Trustees would be a strong deterrent for many.
When I approached the school above about correcting the misleading advice, the principal responded as follows…
I am not sure why this is needed separately. On our enrolment form for parents it reads:
Bible / Non-Bible. A team of people from our local community provides a 30 minute session once a week. There is an alternative programme run by class teachers for those not attending the bible session. Please indicate whether you wish your child to attend bible or the alternative programme.
____ Non Bible
And then parents sign their choice.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, schools do want to avoid adding any unnecessary admin to the already heavy workload. I’ve also found that many school principals and board members genuinely do not see the problem with allowing their preferred religious group privileged access to children in a school that is supposed to be unbiased with regard to religion. However, the law was changed, the schools should have updated their practices and children should be as free of adult agendas as much as possible within their own school. Also,, there is a principle to uphold, so I responded;
The law allowing religious instruction in secular state primary schools changed (in August 2020) from requiring parents to opt-out of Bible classes to opt-in because it was unreasonable and unfair to ask parents if they wanted to remove their children from an extracurricular activity to promote Christian religious faith, when they never wanted it in the first place.
In short, it was coercive. It should be noted that the law was only changed after a high court case was approved where the applicants wanted the law repealed entirely. Changing the law to opt-in only was a way of avoiding a court case that was indefensible. This is supported by legal advice regarding religious instruction and discrimination that the Ministry of Education received in 2001. See section 17 of the attached document.
It was akin to closing the school for 30 minutes every week to promote a specific political party’s views and expecting parents to ask for their children to be removed if they didn’t like it. Closing a secular state school during normal school hours to promote a specific religious belief is also unethical but unfortunately, still legal.
It is disingenuous to ask parents on an enrollment form to opt-out when the law is clearly designed to ensure that parents should only ever opt-in. It is also rather presumptive to assume that the parent is giving consent for the entire time their child attends the school. When did you last send out a notice asking if a parent wanted to opt-out of after school soccer for the next 6 years?
Also, there is no need whatsoever to ask a parent if they want the non-bible class because the school is legally required to provide one anyway due to the fact that they are imposing religious faith teaching in the (supposed) secular school.
The MOE recommends that schools should seek renewed consent where the programme has changed in any way. This is highly likely over a period of years and I am aware that the Churches Education Commission (now Launchpad) have changed their syllabus within the last year or two.
Personally, I consider this a question of principle. The principle being that children should not have adult religious, political or ideological agendas imposed on them while they are at school. I can think of no good reason for any secular state school to promote religious views of any kind within school hours. You very likely have a church down the road that parents and their children can attend on a Sunday. There is time both before and after school. The desire to promote a particular religious faith within school hours requires bias and a willingness to discriminate against children from non-Christian families whose curriculum learning is put on hold while this particular belief is promoted.
If you can see that promoting specific political views to children at school is wrong, then you can see why this is wrong too.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
As seen here, schools may be relying on the outdated (and prejudiced) practice of bolting religious instruction onto their enrolment form. Maybe they have old forms that need to be used up or maybe they just don’t see the issue. Either way, if no one says anything, it will take even longer to change.