John Banks recently said on Radio Rhema that he believes in the literal truth of the Genesis Story. Some have questioned whether this is appropriate for the Associate Minister of Education. The implied question is, “should a persons religious belief determine whether they can hold office?” Clearly we live in a free country, and everyone is entitled to freedom of religion. As a spokesperson for the Secular Education Network it would be hypocritical in the extreme to suggest that we should discriminate against people of the basis of faith.

In the United States they have a constitution which ensures freedom of religion. However, while there are no religious tests to stand for office, religion is taken into account when people are in the voting booth. The belief of John Banks in and of itself is not an issue. Many New Zealand Members of Parliament from both sides of the house no doubt hold the same or similar beliefs. Kiwis as a rule do not make their voting decisions based on the faith of candidates. However, they may very well make decisions on whether politicians have representing their interests.

We have a concern that the personal beliefs of John Banks may have lead to support of Charter Schools which will open the floodgates to tax payer funded religious indoctrination. Charter Schools have no electoral mandate, and have essentially been introduced in a deal between parties. There has been no systematic study of the educational impacts that they will have in New Zealand. Studies from other countries who have introduced Charter Schools indicate that they will have no beneficial educational outcomes.

So we are left the question – why? Have the personal beliefs of a single MP driven through significant changes to the education system? Why has there been no  peer review and study? Have Charter Schools simply been a play to reverse the decline of religion in New Zealand through state funding of religious indoctrination? Given the nature of how this legislation has been introduced, and the stated beliefs of the single politician that facilitated it, one is naturally curious over whether belief has driven this decision.

When it comes to the education of our children the beliefs of John Bank’s have become very pertinent, not because he holds them, but because they may have inspired experiments on the nations children.