Religious Studies in schools: Legal challenge by Church Commission

On Thursday, the Churches Education Commission (CEC) will launch a legal challenge to be allowed to give evidence in a dispute between a family who believe their daughter was segregated and humiliated after opting out of religious studies, and a Whangaparaoa school.

The lawyer representing the McClintock family, Richard Francois, is also seeking to repeal Section 78 of the Education Act, a move which could lead to religious studies being removed from state schools

Given the potential impact of the legal bid, the commission — the country’s single biggest provider of school Bible studies — will argue on Thursday in the High Court at Auckland that it should be able to give evidence supporting the retention of religious teachings.

On Monday, board member Murray Burton told TV ONE’s Breakfast that religious studies provide valuable life skills and moral teaching for young students.

“We’ve proven it adds huge value. We’re not there to proselytise or evangelise. We’re there to sow some seeds and I think the fruit will speak for itself.”

Mr Burton says he occasionally gets reports that students feel excluded when they opt out of religious classes.

However, he says schools generally handle those situations well.

“Unfortunately every now and again someone feels got at and that’s sad. We’d like to be part of the solution for that as well.”

He says the half hour to an hour that children spend learning religion can help them develop character, which helps in all other areas of study.

“We would argue that nothing is lost but everything is gained by just taking half an hour to focus on that.”

The Education Ministry said it would be inappropriate to comment as it was a party to the case before the courts.

The present rules state:
• Parents can choose to withdraw their children from religious instruction.
• Schools are able to offer one hour a week of religious studies.
• Each school decides on whether Bible programmes are offered.
• Schools can schedule them at whatever time suits.


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