What’s the difference between religious education and religious instruction?
Religious education is objective and taught by professional teachers. It encourages discussion and understanding of different religious communities and non-religious perspectives. Religious instruction preaches Christian beliefs and presents the Bible as fact.
In 2015, we asked Paul Morris, Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University to review the CEC religious instruction materials. He said that he did not consider them “…at all suitable for non-Christian, non-evangelical students”. He concludes his report
by saying that “the programme of Christian formation is at odds with the diverse religious demography of our country where nationally a minority are Christian and an even smaller minority are conservative evangelical Christians. CRE (religious instruction) students are encouraged to bring Jesus and their experiences and learnings into their daily lives, families, and self-awareness in ways that are both potentially compatible and conducive to subsequent conversion.”
Should religion be taught at all?
We really encourage a balanced education about religion, taught from an academic, objective perspective. But that’s not what is happening. New Zealand’s religious instruction providers instruct in Christian religious faith as fact, based on the bible being the word of God. There is no monitoring by the Ministry of Education, their beliefs are not questioned, and there is no discussion of other people’s religions or beliefs. Generally, children learn to believe that there is a God, that the earth was built in 7 days and that Jesus was his son, and they are taught how to pray to God.
Ultimately, this has nothing to do with Christianity or Christian beliefs. If it were Islam, Buddhism, Atheism or any other religious view, it would also be wrong for it to be brought into a state school.
Do children opt-in or opt-out of religious instruction?
In most schools, children must opt-out if their parents do not want them to attend religious instruction. Sometimes this is included in the enrolment form, sometimes under the name ‘values education’. We often hear from parents who did not know for some time that their child was attending religious instruction classes in school time.
Those children who opt out are often assigned a task or quiet activity to do. These can range from working at the back of the same class or reading in the library, to picking up rubbish and doing dishes in the staffroom! Should children be removed from their own classroom and their friends to avoid religious evangelism in a non-religious school?
Children in schools with religious instruction classes lose up to 160 hours of their curriculum teaching due to bible classes. This is more than 6 weeks of full-time teaching.
How do you know what your children are learning?
In short, you probably don't. You can ask your school for a copy of the syllabus, but in many cases, Launchpad, the Churches Education Commission responsible for the classes, won't release it. The church members that take the religious instruction classes are not trained teachers.
I don’t want my children to attend. What can I do about it?
The most important thing is to not stay silent. Your children should not face religious pressures at school. First, join the Teach, not Preach NZ (Secular Education Network) Facebook group
, where you can ask questions and ask for help.
Often parents allow their children to attend the classes because they don’t want their children to be “different”. You’d be surprised how many other parents feel the same way, but often remain silent. Opt your children out as a first move, and consider getting a group of parents together to complain about the classes. Sometimes schools are just following an old tradition, and haven’t considered change.
We are working to change the law so that school time is for education, not religious indoctrination. You can help by signing up to our mailing list
for updates, and donating to support our legal challenge
Is religious instruction allowed in a state school?
Yes, if the school is officially ‘closed’ during the class. Schools can be deemed to be closed by the Board of Trustees for up to an hour a week, 20 weeks of the year, for religious instruction, even in what is usually considered to be teaching time.
It can help to know how this came about. When the Education Act was created in 1877, it made primary education compulsory, free and secular. Secular means ‘non-religious’, or having no stance on religious faith. It’s important to note that at this time, around 90% of New Zealanders considered themselves to be Christians. Primary schools were made secular because they did not want different Christian denominations fighting over who would have access to this newly-compulsory education system.
Until the Education Act was amended in 1964, there was a huge amount of debate about teaching religion in schools, and much of it was done using a loophole called the Nelson system where the school was considered ‘closed’ to allow the classes to take place.
In 1964, this was included in the Education Act to make the classes legal. However, the school still has to ‘close’ to allow the classes, as the school must be secular when open.
Isn’t it just teaching Christian values?
We all share some values with Christians, but that doesn’t make them ‘Christian’ values. Human values, common to us all, are already taught under the Ministry of Education syllabus, so there is no need for Christian church members to come and teach them. Human values and morals can be taught without any reference to religious beliefs. These classes are, of course, about spreading Christian religious faith.
Consider this quote from a previous head of the Churches Education Commission, now called Launchpad
, which provides most of the religious instruction classes in New Zealand’s Primary Schools: In a newsletter, David Mulholland, CEC National Director said:
“Churches by and large have not woken up to the fact that this is a mission field on our doorstep. The children are right there, and we don’t have to supply buildings, seating, lighting or heating. We often hear in church about the 10-40 window for evangelising people in the world. For me, it’s a 9 to 3 window.”
Is it anti-Christian to remove religious instruction classes?
New Zealand primary schools were always meant to be non-religious, so that children could be free of religious pressure at school. Our secular state primary schools should not be accessible to religious groups as a pool of potential recruits. This is not an attack on Christianity, it is a defence against Christian evangelism.
Just because this privileged access to children has been happening for a long time, it does not mean that the classes are justified. Non-Christian children and their parents should be treated equally, but some Christians are now calling anyone that disagrees with Bible Classes, “Anti-Christian” or “intolerant”. Schools are for teaching, not preaching.
If it is a human right to practice religion, what is wrong with religious instruction?
We live in a free and democratic society, and we have the right to practice religion in public and in private - that's part of the Bill of Rights. That’s great. But our secular schools are not the place to do this. New Zealand’s schools are full of children from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds, and they have the right to not be preached to. If parents would like their children instructed in Christianity, they are welcome to take them to church.
Does the Ministry of Education approve the classes?
No. The Ministry has no input into the syllabuses taught, because the school is technically ‘closed’ when they take place. There are no official guidelines for how the classes should be run, or what they should teach. However, many schools tell parents that the religious instruction classes are “approved by the Ministry of Education,” which is false and misleading.
What will your Court Case focus on?
In New Zealand, a few people on a board of trustees or in a school community should not be able to dictate religious teaching in a non-religious school. This is against the spirit of secular schooling, discriminates against the children of non-Christian families, and is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993.
We are working to change the Education Act so that schools are for teaching, not preaching. We are supported by people all over the country, including Christians and people with many different religious beliefs and backgrounds. Our children should be able to go to school and not have any religious pressure put on them. New Zealand’s primary schools should be welcoming places for children from all religious backgrounds and beliefs.
You can support us by signing up to our mailing list
for updates and donating to support our legal challenge