Native Affairs - Religious Education

By Renee Kahukura-Iosefa

For over 140 years, religious instruction has been taught in state schools across Aotearoa.

But now, the Secular Education Network has started a campaign to ban it from classrooms.

Thousands of students in over 600 schools engage each week in Christian doctrine taught by volunteers from the Churches Education Commission.

Abbey Reeve from the Commission says, “We bring Christian religious education and we are teaching values through a biblical worldview. So we teach them what the bible says about God and what the bible says about different values.”

However, the Secular Education Network believes there is no place for religious instruction in state schools. They’ve started a campaign to expel the programmes from schools.

Ngaire McCarthy from the Network says, “There should be no religious instruction in state primary schools in New Zealand. If a parent wants their children to learn religion then they should teach their 5 year old about religion at home.”

The Education Act allows for religious instruction and it’s up to parents if they want their children to opt out of the programmes.

Peter Harrison is the founder of the Secular Education Networks. He also questions the use of prayers in te reo Māori, saying if it is religious then it needs to go. Harrison says, “I don't believe that we should have explicitly Christian karakia because we have roughly 50% of Māori who are non-religious. So it’s sort of excluding those people or at least making them feel alienated. I would rather see an inclusive karakia that makes all the children feel welcome in the school.”

But Abbey Allen from Churches Education Commission says, “We use karakia or prayer as an example within our lesson and it’s always given as a choice whether the children participate or not. We are there to teach about Christian religious education and prayer is part of the lesson.