Review of state school religious instruction ruled out

New Zealand’s Education Minister Hekia Parata says she is not considering a review of the Education Act, which allows religious instruction in state schools.

Christchurch mother Tanya Jacob and the Secular Education Network are pressing for changes to the law in this regard.

They have laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

Ms Jacob said her son felt discriminated against and was made to wash dishes when he opted out of religious instruction at his school.

Section 78 of the Education Act, 1964, allows up to one hour a week or 20 hours a year of religious instruction in state schools, at times when the school is deemed to be closed.

This has to be approved by the school’s board of trustees after consultation with their principal. reported Ms Parata saying that if parents don’t want to have their children going to a school that offers religious instruction, then they can choose another school.

Christianity was where New Zealand’s “traditional history” came from, she said.

“The country as a whole at a public national level still has a view about the place of that in our society.”

Ms Parata predicted the role of religion in education could eventually change, as the population “decides that that is what it wants to happen”.

The majority of schools would have to have a problem in this area, before she would consider any kind of review.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said religion in schools was a “vexed area” and he would be open to a review.

A SEN survey that gained 1663 responses from 1833 New Zealand state primary and intermediate schools found that 37.7 per cent offered religious instruction.

Some schools are adopting an “opt-in” approach for religious instruction, rather than the traditional “opt-out” approach, to avoid controversy.


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