The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists applaud the Government and Education Minister Chris Hipkins for proposing legislation that will introduce mandatory informed consent for religious instruction in state primary schools. The The Education and Training Bill 2019 modifies the existing legislation which previously permitted schools to include children in religious instruction without the express permission or knowledge of parents.
It will require written consent from parents of children prior to them attending religious instruction. Hipkins clarified the proposed legislation saying “In order for schools to bring someone in to do religious instruction they need to alert the parents to the fact that they are doing that and ensure the parents consent to that happening,” In an NZ Herald article he went further saying that does not believe schools should be offering religious instruction, but that a wider discussion was needed first. This view is shared by the Rationalists who support a return to a inclusive secular school system which does not divide children on the basis of religion.
The Rationalists have strongly supported repeal of the religious instruction provisions since their introduction in 1964. In 2012 support was extended to families who were facing discrimination and hostility when children were opted out of religious instruction. Since then a broad community has grown around the issue with representatives of many religious groups.
The new Bill follows the release of guidelines for religious instruction last year which expressly recommended an opt in approach where parents provide informed consent. Even the Churches Education Commission, now renamed LaunchPad support informed consent of parents, although they believe law change is not required.
In an increasingly multicultural society where Christianity is now in the minority according to the latest census there is little justification to continue a practice which marginalises or even punishes students for their or their parents beliefs. We strongly support inclusive schools where all students feel safe and welcome. We stand behind the Minister in his desire to help support that goal.