New Zealand’s Secular Education Network has filed a case with the Human Rights Review Tribunal over the teaching of Christianity in state schools.
SEN’s spokesman, David Hines – third from right, above – believes all religions should be taught in an academic way and that Christianity should not be given preferential treatment.
The retired journalist and lay preacher said:
It’s a spit in the face for every other religion, it is saying that Christianity is superior. It is telling the Jews that the Bible is a Christian book when the Jews have substantially the same book but put a different interpretation on it.
It is a put down for atheists because it says you have got to believe in God to live a good life.
Hines has gathered 26 witnesses for his case, including 13 parents who said their children were mistreated. One of them is Tanya Jacob, who had to pull her children out of their school in Christchurch. She said:
We knew there were going to be these Bible classes so we thought we would just opt out. Over time we found that our kids were being put back in (to the class) and we found they were being told they were going to Hell. They were also being badgered for not believing in God.
Joining the case along with Jacob were leaders from five religions saying their beliefs were misrepresented.
Another witness is Paul Morris, above, Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University.
He examined three religious instruction courses used in schools and found defects in all of them.
They present Christianity from an evangelical perspective. The teachers’ guides include prayer sessions, thanking God for the Bible, thanking God for the miracles, they do not address students who come from different faith worlds.
It said it was the largest provider of religious instruction in the country, and was passionate about its continuation in New Zealand’s state schools.
However, Hines argued that the religious instruction being done by this group was not, strictly speaking, legal.
He said the Bill of Rights Act prohibited state institutions from favouring one religion over another, but the Education Act allowed exactly that.
Those two laws are in conflict with each other … we are asking the tribunal to make a ruling that the laws are inconsistent, and send a report to parliament saying they should consider changing the law.
Jacob said she pulled her children out of school for religious instruction that should not have existed:
It’s got nothing to do with normal education. If you want your children to be brought up in a faith, then you take them to church or the temple or a mosque.
That is not for school time. All our kids should be able to go to school without being made to believe in things or be harassed for not believing in things.
The Attorney General was not commenting on the upcoming hearing, nor was the Ministry of Justice, except to confirm that a case has been filed.
No date for a hearing has been set but the battle lines have been drawn, with senior lawyers, including a QC, hired for representation.