The NZ Rationalists and Humanists have committed to meeting donations dollar for dollar up to $50,000 to support the campaign to end the discriminatory practice of religious instruction in New Zealand primary schools. David Hines and Tanya Jacob have filed a case against the Government to end religious instruction. It will eventually be heard by the Human Rights Tribunal. Over seven hundred pages of evidence has been filed detailing the experiences of children and parent along with the analysis of experts such as Paul Morris who has examined the curriculum documents for religious instruction. The objective of the challenge is to acheve a declaration of inconsistancy which will force religious indoctrination legislation to be examined by the Government.
The wait for a hearing may be a long one, with a significant backlog of cases with the Human Rights Tribunal. Current President of the NZARH, Peter Harrison, said “The NZARH is committed to providing funding to help conduct the case to protect freedom of belief.”
According to a 2013 survey of primary schools approximately 40% run religious instruction programs. The secular nature of New Zealand primary schools was established in the 1877 Education Act. However, since the early 1900’s some schools have operated religious instruction classes outside official school time by closing schools early. In 1964 this practice entered legislation when it was written into the Education Act.
No offer from the Human Rights Commission has been received to provide any funding or assistance despite them being aware of the discriminatory practice for decades. Harrison observed that “the HRC is tasked in their enabling act with protecting religious freedoms in New Zealand, but they have stubbornly failed New Zealand parents facing discrimination on the basis of their faith.”
While the Ministry of Education had committed to publishing new guidelines on religious instruction they have also failed to live up to promises made. Harrison condemned both organisations, saying “the failure of the HRC to stand up for freedom of belief, which is part of the Human Rights Act, is deplorable. As is the failure of the Ministry of Education to address the harms to children so clearly in evidence. How can we have inclusive schools when so many are made to feel excluded and segregated?”
Harrison continues: “I am very disappointed that the HRC rejected our challenge to live up to it’s charter, to become energetic, enthusiastic supporters of freedom of belief, to publicly endorse an education system that is safe and welcoming to all children, and to actively take an interest in ensuring schools observe the Human Rights Act and do not discriminate against children on the basis of belief.”