Religious Instruction has no place in New Zealand public schools.

Religious Instruction means teaching and endorsing a faith in its own right, for example the practice of Church volunteers ”leading children to a faith in Jesus”.  There is a significant difference between religious instruction and religious studies.

Religious Studies teaches a comparative overview of the major world religions, taken by qualified teachers in a neutral manner. New Zealand state primary schools do not currently have this program.

The Secular Education Network (SEN) has the primary goal of removing Religious Instruction from New Zealand state primary schools. Ultimately this will involve repeal of the New Zealand Education Act (1964) Section 78.
While SEN is supportive of Comprehensive Religious Studies that includes non-religious viewpoints, this subject is more appropriate for high school.  It is incidental to our core goal of inclusive primary schooling.

Values are important regardless of religion.

Many parents have been put in the position of deciding whether or not to allow their children to attend religious classes. These classes are designed to indoctrinate children with religious belief. They are often promoted to parents as ‘values classes’. The sectarian nature of these classes and the refusal of schools to conduct inclusive values classes is a poor example of the values they purportedly teach. Often this leaves parents believing their children won’t receive values education if they opt-out.

All Children Deserve an Education in Values

SEN was established to support parents who believe that Values are important in the education of all our children. That Values education should be provided on a non discriminatory basis.

The purpose of the Secular Education Network is to promote the true separation of church and state; to give all faiths equal treatment by the state. It is to ensure that all children are treated equally. It is to ensure that children are not excluded and segregated from their classmates because of decisions by schools to permit religious indoctrination. It is to ensure that children are given positive instruction in values, not ignored in libraries.

Our objectives:

  • Promote an inclusive school curriculum, which does not require any student to withdraw from class on account of different religious beliefs.
  • Cease the practice of volunteer-run religious instruction during school hours.
  • Treat all religious organisations who wish to use the school facilities outside of the school day with transparent and equitable policies.

Religious Freedom

The Secular Education network supports personal religious freedom, including:

  • The wearing of religious symbols,
  • Student-initiated prayer,
  • Religious history and social studies, taught by qualified state teachers.

The Secular Education does not support the promotion of Atheism by state schools.

The Secular Education Network has no position on:

  • The celebration of Easter and Christmas,
  • Prayer in parliament,
  • The NZ flag,
  • or the teaching of Maori culture.

29 Responses to Religious Instruction has no place in New Zealand public schools.

  1. Kathleen says:

    Hi, I am on the Board of Trustees and am wanting to put together a Parent Survey on Religious Instruction in the school. I was wondering whether you had any sample surveys that I could use as a resource. I have found your website very helpful. Thanks and kind regards, Kathleen

  2. Paul McGowan says:

    Hi, if Religious history and social studies are to be taught by qualified state teachers, will that also include the history of Secular humanism and the Enlightenment ?

    • John says:

      There is already scope to teach about religions within the school curriculum, and “Religious instruction” is an added activity outside the school curriculum, where outside volunteers are allowed to “instruct” children so as to inculcate belief in christianity.
      To me, the debate as to whether the content within the curriculum could be improved, is separate from the debate as to whether we should close schools so that indoctrination can take place.

      • David Richards says:

        This might have read:
        “There is already scope to teach about religions within the school curriculum, and “Occultist brainwashing” is an added activity outside the school curriculum, where outside volunteers are allowed to “instruct” children so as to inculcate belief in the Occult.”

        And I would be no less shocked.

        This wording horrifies me. ALLOWED to instruct. INCULCATE BELIEF.
        Well while we’re at it, I guess John might think that non-curricular volunteers ought to come in and “instruct” children by corporal punishment in the ‘good old days’ where it was socially acceptable to beat kids as the best way to get them to respond. Would you let the school close so people not part of the school could come in and hit the children just because it was thought that that was the best method of drumming something into them. I really hope not. Well, that sorta leads on to the next part, inculcate. The dictionary definition of inculcate is “to fix something firmly in somebodies mind through frequent and forceful repetition” from the Latin inculcate-, from inculcare, literally ‘to stamp in’.
        It sickens me to see such bald faced ideological bigotry.
        No, we shouldn’t be dividing the next generation in this manner, we want to bring the barriers between people down not put them up.

  3. rochelle watters says:

    My daughter has been enrolled in two different schools in the south island that have a christian volunteer in for 30 minutes/ week teaching the children about christianity.
    In both schools we were not informed. Why is this legal -in other common wealth countries such as Canada this was abolished in the early 1980′s. What can I do about this? This has no place in public schools.

    • Nathan says:

      We had a similar experience in Auckland, our son’s primary school started taking them “out of school” for an hour one day a week to teach a Christian education course – the only warning we had was a small footnote on a newsletter. When I enquired about the nature and purpose of the course the reaction was very defensive – I was surprised to find I had to justify to the principal himself why I didn’t want my son being involved in this course.

      The school grudgingly removed him from the course and he and a small handful of other kids not participating had to sit in another room playing computer games for the duration.

      I have no objection to these courses being run on the school premises, but only on the condition that they are a) run outside normal school hours and b) opt-in only, for those people that actually want their kids involved. They have no place being inserted into the middle of a school day and involving all kids by default, which frankly smacks of a rather sneaky and underhanded approach.

      • Wayne Widdowson says:

        Just because it ‘smacks’ of being underhand doesn’t mean schools are being sneaky. I’m curious as to what schools you know just ‘sneak in’ religious education. I know my daughter’s school is very upfront and transparent about the whole process.

        • senadmin says:

          Thankfully many schools provide clear information on Religious Instruction, however others like Red Beach School actively deny running Religious Instruction both verbally and on their website. Others use vague description like “Values classes” “Cool Bananas”, “Champions” etc. This is a dishonest technique.

  4. Jacqui Matheson says:

    Thanks for setting up this network.
    Five years ago when my son started school I was very unimpressed that he was having religious instruction without my knowledge or approval. Once I found out, I asked to have my son removed from the classes as I believe that specific Christian teaching has no place in a secular school. He & one other child were placed in a classroom by themselves but at times the school wasn’t sure where to put them during the teaching period.
    If Christian teaching can’t be removed or replaced with classes on values, morals, ethics etc. I think parents firstly should be advised that such classes are taking place & then be asked to opt in rather than opt out. I can even remember from my early childhood thinking that the one girl who didn’t attend our religious study time must have had ‘bad’ parents. I had been brought up in a Christian household so didn’t know any different. I hope the other children in my son’s class weren’t thinking the same thoughts about my husband & myself!
    With such cultural diversity in our society these days, I wonder how the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh etc. parents feel when their child comes home & starts talking about Jesus & salvation!
    Thanks again for giving us a voice!

  5. Teresa says:

    Good for you! How can we have a secular education when Bible in Schools is still in place in many schools. Also, I wonder why it appears that it’s okay for teachers say Karakia at the beginning of the school day, when they wouldn’t say the same prayer in English?? Seems like a prayer to some god, is a prayer, no matter what language you use. Secular? I think not!

    • Serenity says:

      I fully agree. I’m 16 now, but last year, at 15, I noticed the translation on the Karakia -an opening one and a closing one- that we are REQUIRED to do each Monday during what we call “Huiata” (which is basically a short whole-school assembly in which notices are read out) has religious terms such as “God” and “Amen” etc. etc. and as an atheist, I was pissed off. I then refused to attend any longer -which I got in trouble for on multiple occasions- until my parents had to declare that I didn’t have to associate with this, although believe that I should’ve definitely been allowed my own beliefs, regardless of what my parents think. Freedom of Religion? Luckily, my parents have similar ideals to me and refused to bow down when the school tried telling them to “talk to me” to make me “see reason” and I was no longer required to attend. But they weren’t done. Instead of remaining upstairs in the classroom that my year group sits in regularly while totally unsupervised, I was now required to walk down the stairs and sit in the adjoining room (where I could hear every word) and walk back up with the rest of the school when they went back to their classes. Not really a big deal, but frustrating all the same, and a measure that I’m sure was meant to be some sort of ‘punishment’, because I wouldn’t just do what they said and sit through their religious crap. The entire process was just frustrating and made all the more difficult by the teachers and staff that just didn’t understand that *gasp* people might believe differently to them.

  6. Hannah Common says:

    I was wondering in their is a political party that supports your goal to have religious instruction removed from primary schools?

    • senadmin says:

      Hi Hannah, Thanks for asking. We have been asking the political parities this very question and will be posting the results on this website soon. Lisa

  7. Paul says:

    As an “oldie”, I was apalled to hear from my daughter that this sort or nonsense still goes on

    Don’t misunderstand me, once a person reaches a point where they are able to make valid life choices, then they should be most welcome to fill their minds with whatever they like, but leave our children alone!

    I applaud your efforts, and look forward to a time when either my granddaughter, or perhaps her children (hopefully sooner), can experience an education which engenders inclusive values, not one which has a loophole that allows for “indoctrination” (as described by another commenter)

    As a thought, I would suggest that were you to make headway, that an appropriate insertion of atheism into religious education as defined above (despite the fact atheism is not a religion), is likely to provide a more balanced overview of the world as it is, than simply comparing the range of religions

    I accept that I am biased in my view on this, but posit that balance means balance

    Once again I applaud your efforts, and now that my awareness has been raised, will certainly be taking more notice

    My children are adults now, my elder daughter is the guardian of my granddaughters education, and is doing a great job (and will not suffer fools)

    The simple question, what more can I do to help?

    Replies welcome

    • senadmin says:

      Hi Paul, Thanks for your support. Under “Parents and caregivers”, there is a “How can I help?” section with a list of suggest including sample letters. If you are on facebook please join the facebook group to keep informed about what we are doing. Keeping an eye on the Media, so that you can put in your two cents by writing to the editor or phoning talk-back when the subject comes up can also do a lot to help. Lisa

  8. Alan Radford says:

    I saw the item in the Herald today. If I read it correctly, SEN advocates state teachers explaining all religions to the students. School is not the place for this. If all religions were addressed then it would leave only a moment to explain each. Or is someone going to select which religions to teach? Or would some be given more time than others? State schools are secular and are not the place for any religious instruction. It is relevant only when it occurs as a factor in historic events, but our schools seem to have dropped HISTORY as a subject. Explaining religions in any way is just the same as religious instruction – and it is not at all okay in any school – not just state ones.
    Religions have no claim to be champions of morality, or justice. In my view religious instruction of students is child abuse.

    • Paul says:

      How about if the subject was philosophy (as I believe they do in France). A knowledge of religion also incorporates history and language. Shakespeare was writing at the same time the KJV bible was written. Even Richard Dawkins acknowledges this as I assume that’s who you get the child abuse term from.
      Understanding the differences between Catholics & Protestants, Sunni & Shia, amongst others, is important for all of us.

  9. Gilbo says:

    Hi, I just saw your story in the Rodney Times re; Jeff McClintock taking the Red Beach School Board of Trustees to court.
    It’s a terrible shame things have come to this point but I agree with Jeff because a stand is clearly called for in this case.
    Although Jeff had used the ‘opt out’ option so his child would not be indoctrinated by religious instruction during a christian class called ‘values in action’, his daughter has repeatedly being put back into the class without his consent.
    This blatant attempt to indoctrinate a child into christian values in a state school cannot be tolerated.
    Good luck Jeff in your endeavour to teach a school a lesson for a change.

  10. Wayne Widdowson says:

    I put up a post earlier this week, but it seems to have disappeared. Nevertheless, I still would like an answer to a question I raised. In what ways is ‘religious education indoctrination’? The word ‘indoctrination’, as you know, is quite a loaded term. It comes with a history of political, cultural and social baggage.

    • senadmin says:

      Note: Our objection is not to General Religious Education, rather Religious Instruction – the teaching of Protestant Christian Doctrine (beliefs) to public school children. “Indoctrination” is the correct term for “imparting doctrine”, If this has negative connotations please complain to the people performing the indoctrination.

  11. Carl Cockill says:

    I had issues with these “classes” years ago and pulled my kids out of them. What I found most disturbing was that my wife volunteered to look after the kids that didn’t want to attend in the school library. But she was told that she couldn’t make this supervised time more fun or interesting than the bible class next door. It’s laughable.
    It’s just a very underhanded way of getting into the heads of our kids at the most impressionable age of there lives. It needs to stop.

  12. Davy says:

    I support completely the challenge to the Ed Act, and repudiate the absurd “closing” of the school for an hour, allowing teachers to gossip in the staff room while children submit to Bible stuff unsupervised. I wish those parents well who are challenging the practice in their children’s schools.
    NZ is multicultural, like the UK, where I’ve seen religious studies and Diwali and the like feature in the school calendar. This has the potential to promote tolerance and harmony. The presence of god-botherers in primary schools here is a disgrace. Since all religion is essentially fictitious, though, I would prefer to see it completely removed from the syllabus. Secular education implies post-Enlightenment learning.

  13. Ray says:

    I have 12 A4 pages of atrocities that are found in the bible. This does not include absurdities eg. talking mule, snake, or contradictions etc. I wonder if I would be able to distribute these to the schools that have religious brainwashing. Yes brainwashing. These people know only too well that it is best to get them when they are young and trusting in what the grown ups say. Indoctrination is offering up their beliefs. Brainwashing is instilling their beliefs with the threat of hell fire if they don’t follow what they are taught.

    • Jack says:

      Could you perhaps send those to me?
      I really enjoy annoying religious instructors at my school with Richard Dawkins quotes, Bible verses that show extreme prejudice, etc. this would help a lot.
      (year 9)

  14. Annette says:

    I have opted out of “cool bananas” for my child. After allowing him to go into the classes to start (as they felt it was near christmas so it didn’t matter) I had to actually write a letter, after I had already stated 2 months earlier on his enrollment form that I wished for him to be opted out. As far as I know they just send the kids to the library for that period of time. Recently all the kids were told there was going to be a Tom and Jerry thing, so all the children thought this. But it was only for the “cool banana” kids and so the other kids were made to feel very left out. Why was this told to all the children in school time when it was only for that period. Thank you for this website and making me realize I am not alone.

  15. Reason and science inevitably become victims of religious instruction. If religion is to be taught in schools, which I personally don’t favour, then it must incorporate all faiths and beliefs. Best of luck. I fully support your cause.
    Kind regards,

  16. Alan Phillips says:

    I support your work. My children have all finished school but all four suffered from covert Christian evangelicalism masquerading as “normal” behaviour. None suffered at all from any religion other than Christian. The key problem as I saw it was teacher’s pushing their own Christian beliefs before all others or none.

  17. Glen Eastlake says:

    Great to see the SEN set up. I am from Australia, moved to NZ beginning of this year and saw similar things happening in Australian schools where evangelicals and fundamentalists had infiltrated the public school system with the help of several millions of dollars in assistance from the Australian federal government. The first thing I knew about these classes was when my (then) 7 year old son came home from school and told me I ‘was going to burn in hell’ for not being a believer in god. When I asked who told him this his response was ‘my religion teacher’. I had him removed from the classes forthwith. I penned a letter of protest to the school principle and did not even get a reply.

    I also found out that the Noah’s Ark myth is being taught as fact and that evolution (and any science that disagrees with the bible) is discredited at every opportunity.

    Do not let these evangelicals get a toe-hold in your schools here.
    If parents want their children to have religious instruction then send them to Sunday School. If religion is to be discussed in school it should be balanced, unbiased and cover many religious viewpoints – not be used as a trojan horse for narrow minded christian fundamentalists.

    Keep up the good work SEN.

  18. Karen Roche says:

    It is the assumption that god exists in these sessions. And even prayers.
    The big problem I have is that these sessions are given by relgious unqualified members of the public.

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