The Tolerant Secular State
The NZARH strongly believes that government should be secular; that is dealing with the issues of this world rather than following a religious agenda. Our law should not give one set of beliefs privilege over another and the state should treat religious organisations the same as any other organisation. The rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, must be upheld as long as these are not used to undermine other people’s rights to safety and security.
One of the great things about living in New Zealand is that despite holding completely different religious, political and other beliefs, in almost all cases we are able to get along with each other. We now take it for granted that we can hold and express our opinions without fear of retribution from those who disagree with them. For most of human history this has not been true, and it is still not the case in most present day countries.
Societies in which all people can openly express and practice their beliefs are far better places to live in than those that enforce dogma – religious or otherwise. Having a society that accepts different beliefs means that all are able to participate and contribute. This freedom of opinion is important for the well-being and advancement of society. New ideals can be put forward, argued for and against, and in some cases adopted. This allows society to change and improve. Many once controversial ideas such as abolishing slavery, allowing women to vote, decriminalised homosexuality, and having human rights are now so well accepted that it would be seen to be an abhorrent to return to past laws and practices.
Having the freedom to express your views is matched by the responsibility to allow others to express their views, including those which we strongly disagree with. While we may not respect someone’s belief or opinion, we must respect their right to hold and express one.
Religious privilege in New Zealand
New Zealand is one of the most secular and tolerant countries in the world. The key legislation that upholds the principles of the fair and tolerant society are the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (1990) and the Human Rights Act (1993). There are however still relics in New Zealand government and law that continue to discriminate on the basis of belief.
State Religious Observance
New Zealand parliament opens with a Christian prayer rather than having a secular statement that allows all politicians to reflect on why they are they are there. Our two national anthems are meaningless to those without a personal belief in a god.
The crime of blasphemous libel gives religious doctrine special protection that other ideas and beliefs don’t have. As the teachings of every significant religious prophet challenged and blasphemed previously held beliefs, any attempt to restrict criticism of religion is hypocritical and invokes a barrier to progress and improvement.
Advancement of religion as a charitable purpose
The advancement of religion is a charitable purpose. This gives religious/supernatural beliefs an advantage over other beliefs in being subsidised by the taxpayer. While it is possible for organisations such as the NZARH to gain charitable status through the criteria for advancement of education or being beneficial to the community, it is much harder for them to do so. While the NZARH could attempt to register as a charity, it hasn’t done so as it believes that taxpayers should not be funding the promotion of personal beliefs.
Religion in public schools
The New Zealand public education system was set up to be secular and still is in most cases. There are however too many cases where those running a school try to force their own beliefs on their students through religious observance. The Education Act (1964) has incorporated a loophole to allow primary schools to “close” sections of the school for religious instruction where outside volunteers indoctrinate the children whose parents haven’t opted them out.
While public education should remain free from religious observance and instruction, it is fine to educate about religion. Teaching about different belief systems, both religious and non-religious, is important. Doing so encourages greater tolerance by broadening students understanding of other beliefs, and challenging the notion that any currently held beliefs are somehow superior to other beliefs.
In 1975 integrated schools were introduced without public discussion in order to prop up the failing Roman Catholic school system. The NZARH thinks that it is wrong that taxpayer money is being used to fund the segregation and religious indoctrination of children.
Having integrated schools has created a two-tier public education system. Integrated schools have an unfair advantage over public schools. Not only can they select their students, they can charge for better facilities, and “request” large donations thereby improving their teacher-student ratios. It is not surprising that they are seen as providing higher quality education. As it is extremely hard to set up an integrated school with a special character justification that is not religious, the quality of the education available is restricted by the religious beliefs of the family.
The NZARH strongly believes that public education should be free, secular and available equally to all children.