Keep Religion Out Of School Campaign
NZARH Position on Religion in School
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.
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.
The NZARH strongly believes that public education should be free, secular and available equally to all children.
Why a Campaign Now?
The primary motivation behind the Keep Religion Out Of Schools campaign is to support parents who have approached us with their experiences and concerns.
Often parents are not informed of religious indoctrination classes at all. When they do discover their children are participating they often find that the classes have been linked with 'Values' classes, thus forcing them to make a decision between having values and religion taught, or no values taught at all. Opting young children out means they are being separated from their classmates, and often have little comprehension of the reasons. Often they think they are being punished. Parents who are not religious are pressured into allowing religious indoctrination in order not to stigmatize their children. In some cases children opting out have been given degrading tasks such as picking up rubbish while religious classes are in progress. Some schools also make it onerous and difficult to opt out by insisting on written notices periodically.
The following are some observations of parents:
"Even though we opted out of the programme on our daughters enrolment form on her first day of school she come home excited to show us her first ever piece of homework it was a colouring in page entitled "God Helps Noah". Needless to say I got straight on the phone to the school office to ensure that indeed we did not want our daughter to attend bible class."
"My school stealthily renamed Bible Studies 'Values' education (we all like values yes?). Your school may use a similar trick. We just re-read the last 2 YEARs of school newsletters...ZERO mention religion OR of our right to opt-out. How can you opt-out if YOU DON"T KNOW IT"S HAPPENING?"
"...on occasions she has come home feeling unhappy that she comes from a family that is different form the rest of the school, this feeling of estrangement is what is motivating me to speak to the school. In my opinion it is wrong for the school to promote a programme which incites these feelings in children."
Clearly the time has come for the NZARH to step up and speak for the parents that are being discriminated against and stigmatized in their own communities for simply not wanting to indoctrinate their child with Christian doctrine and dogma.
What Can Be Done?
Talk to Your Child
Find out what is being taught in these classes, and which children are opting out. Find out where the opting-out children go and what activities they do during that time. Those children's parents are ones most likely to be your allies. Talk to the parents, and refer them to the Keep Religion out of School Facebook page.
Talk to other parents
Educate them, and rock the boat a little. How do they feel about having the school officially "closed" for religious instruction? Could they think of better ways that this 20 hours of time could be used? Do they know what is being taught to their children, and does it align with their own beliefs? Do they support the teaching of all the major world religions, or at least those represented by the various pupils in the school, as a useful way of increasing cultural awareness? Would they support a non-religious ethics class like the NSW Primary Ethics curriculum. This approach counters the influence of any one particular religion, is eminently reasonable, and kick-starts the discussion for change.
Talk to your child's Teacher, Headmaster or Headmistress
Understand what they feel about the existing religious program, and whether it reflects the cultural roots of all the pupils. Ask about the 32% of New Zealanders who stated that they had no religion at the last census. Ask whether all the school's children could be catered for by introducing a non-religious ethics program at the school, similar to the Primary Ethics curriculum being introduced in Australia. That will reveal if they support a broad ethics component for their pupils, or are actually pushing a narrow religious agenda.
Get onto your School Board of Trustees
Very preferably with other like-minded parents running for the board as well, in support. BOT's are notoriously cliquey, and a single "outsider" trying to force change can be ostracised. Having said that, make a strong election statement about the school teaching Primary Ethics, or alternatively adopting an "opt in" policy for religious instruction, along with teaching about all the major religions represented at the school (which will get printed on the nominees list sent out with voting forms). This can influence parents and the new board, even if you are not eventually elected.
Write to your MP and the Minister of Education
Object to the schools being officially "closed" as a blatantly dishonest way of circumventing their secular purpose. Ask how the Education Act 1989 can be amended to get religion out of NZ schools for good. Ask how we can implement the NSW Primary Ethics curriculum in New Zealand. Contact details can be found here.
Formally Complain to the School Trustees Association
You will possibly have found by this time that you are getting stonewalled by the existing Board of Trustees and some other parents who cannot see what you are complaining about. In fact, in their eyes you are the problem! This will give you something to write about to the School Trustees Association, highlighting the divisive nature of a religious agenda being imposed on your secular school.
Phone Talkback Radio
Complain that the school is officially "closed" for 20 hours a year, which equates to about one whole week of school lost every year to religious indoctrination of one particular religion, namely Christianity. Talk about cultural awareness, and learning about other religions in this multi-cultural world - including learning about those New Zealanders who have chosen to have no religion, who were 32% of the population at the last census (2006). That is over 1 million people, or one in three. Talk about the non-religious Primary Ethics program starting in Australia. Mention this website, so other like-minded people can find us.
Write a letter to the editor of your local or national newspaper
particularly when an education topic arises that demands more of teachers. If you remove external religious programs from schools that gives back a week of time to teachers and children per year. Some schools already incorporate the teaching of values as part of their normal coursework - so we can give the religious component back to parents where it belongs. Don't forget about adding your comments to online articles as well where you can, such as on TV3's news site.
Use the internet to spread the message
Use all your usual social media to spread the word. This might include sharing relevant news articles on your Facebook page if you have one. Blog about this topic, and post comments on other people's blogs. "Like" articles to up-rate them, and re-tweet them if you are on Twitter. Use the twitter hash-tag "#noNZRI" to link tweets.
Join The NZARH
The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists exists to protect the secular way of life, to promote a free and open society. By joining the society you will be able to meet with many similar minded people. We have regular newsletters, a journal, email lists, and an regional branches which meet all around the country. Join up and help us make tomorrows world a better, more inclsive, tolerant and rational place.