Legal Challenges

There are currently two legal actions in progress against Religious Instruction: David Hines and Tanya Jacob v Ministry of Education (currently in mediation) and Jeff McClintock v Red Beach school Board of Trustees and the Attorney General (First mention 23rd April, Auckland High Court).

Jeff McClintock v Red Beach School Board of Trustees and the Attorney General.

court case

800 NZ public schools run Bible in Schools type programmes, also know as Religious Instruction. These are typically Christian-only devotional programmes run by Church missionaries with the intention of evangelising children.

NZ public schools are by law “entirely secular” but a loophole dubbed the “Nelson clause” was introduced in 1964 to make an exception for Bible classes. This exception allows a school to place children in Bible classes without parental consent, and to employ various coercive measures to ensure children attend. Children opted-out of Bible classes have been made to pick up rubbish, wash dishes or simply left alone unsupervised. Opt-out Children have been pressured to justify their parents religious beliefs (or lack of).

McClintock believes this practice is discriminatory and breaks several existing NZ laws and that the Nelson clause is inconsistent with several other laws.

This is the first case ever against Religious Instruction in NZ. McClintock is represented by lawyer Richard Francois who is donating his time pro bono. The School’s defence of the Church programme is funded by the crown who have hired two top legal teams to entrench discrimination against children in NZ state schools.

Overseas precedents

The “opt-out” system was outlawed in the US in 1948 Supreme Court case McCollum v. Board of Education, which struck down religious education in public schools.

The “opt-out” system was outlawed in Canada in 1988 in  Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education.

The “opt-out” system was banned in Australia in 2011.

What changes does McClintock seek?

McClintock seeks the end to coercing children into unwanted Religious Instruction (RI) though the introduction of Informed Consent. This means:

  • Clearly informing parents as to the religious nature of Bible classes.
  • Seeking the permission in writing from parents before placing children in Religious Instruction.
  • Only children with permission will attend Religious Instruction.  Parents will not have to explicitly “opt-out”.
  • Simply taking no action will indicate your children do not require RI. This protects children’s privacy by not requiring them to reveal their personal beliefs to teachers.
  • Teachers must not try to force children into Bible class though detention, punishment or segregating them from their friends.
  • Schools must not compromise reading, writing and math by reducing their standard opening hours to cater to Bible classes. Bible classes must fit around regular instruction.

What this case does not change.

This case:

  • Does not ban Bible in Schools as an extra-curricular programme.
  • Does not restrict or ban pupils from praying in school or expressing a religious belief.
  • It does not seek to ban the wearing of religious symbols or clothing.
  • It does not attempt to prevent the singing of the National Anthem.
  • It does not ban Maori cultural practices.
  • Has no effect on General Religious Education (professional teaching about various religions from a social studies or historical perspective). General Religious Education is completely legal with or without the Nelson clause.

Further reading


While the Attorney General and Red Beach School have top tax-payer funded legal teams and have all costs met by the crown, McClintock is personably liable for any costs awarded against him and lawyer Richard Francois is donating his time pro bono. Please consider donating…

2 Responses to Legal Challenges

  1. Fiona Coughlan says:

    Dear Jeff & Lisa
    I saw the TVNZ Sunday progamme and wanted to say well done you for taking your case. Strangely, I support your stance. Strange, because I am a christian, take my 3 kids to church and sunday school (althought my husband does not), and was educated at a private Anglican high school.
    What I don’t like about the “bible/christain teaching in schools” programme is:
    - it is forced onto kids and it appears very hard to opt out;
    - no transparency as to who/what etc is teaching/being taught, what;
    - using valuable school time to teach this appears to be outside of the curriculum;
    - our society is more or less secular, it seems to be a evangelical attempt of getting this sort of teaching into schools by steath, without informing parents.
    My view is:
    - if you want religion for your kids in a school – enrol in a church school eg Catholic, Anglican, Prestbyterian etc;
    - if you want sunday school teaching, go to any church on a Sunday (ie in your own time and on your own terms);
    - here is a questions for the supporters, why stop with the bible, why not include the koran, the torah etc?.
    Good luck with your case and I look forward to seeing the outcome.

  2. Tim Robertson says:

    The covert smuggling of religious indoctrination in to schools is despicable. A child should not have to opt out but opt in. What nonsense. If all religions are not being taught fairly by an impartial educator then none should. Do what you want in your own time at your expense but keep my family and my money out of it.

    I cannot believe NZ is so backwards on this subject. I remember the fight I had trying to opt myself out at 7 years old and being told by my principal if I am not one of the short list of alternative religions she could think of on the spot “then I am a Christian”! Even at 7 I heard the crazy in her words. Not all kids have that presence of mind though. Imagine a person in a position of authority making such a statement to your child about any other subject, you too would be livid.

    We are told a belief in religion makes its adherents happy. Just not until everyone else believes the same religion apparently.

    Time to move forward on this NZ. All religion taught equally or none at all!

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