The Secular Education Network has asked the Human Rights Commission to investigate Bible sessions in schools, saying they breach the Human Rights Act.
David Hines, the network’s spokesperson, argues that the classes create a division between Christians and non-Christians.
“That is highly discriminatory. People should have the right to keep their religion private if they want to so the opting-out arrangement is a bad one, we believe. It’s also bad for one single religion to be getting state funding to promote its views to children,” says Hines.
Interfaith educator Jocelyn Armstrong supports interfaith education in schools, saying: “Religion and religious practices can inspire fear and suspicion if they remain something different, alien, misunderstood.
“If however, they become the subject of inquiry, research, explanation and learning in the school setting, teachers and students, both those with a religious faith and those without, can move beyond ignorance, and with that new knowledge have the ability to recognise and affirm another person’s religious commitment with respect.
“One Social Studies teacher in a state high school has included ‘learning about the World Religions’ in his curriculum for several years. He is adamant that this influenced the atmosphere throughout the school in a positive and accepting attitude in the multi-cultural, multi-faith community of the school.”
Armstrong explains that The Bible in Schools movement sensed the growing religious diversity in the 1970’s. Their renewed policy states that it ‘aims to have students understand the beliefs by which people live, as an aid to the development of their own values and those of others’.
New Zealand Principal’s Federation President Phil Harding told Nine to Noon principals had to increasingly act as referees between parents and school trustees on the issue.
Mr Harding said there was a middle ground. “It’s quite doable to create pockets of practice across a school that cater for a wide range of needs, be it Christian, Muslim or atheistic,” he says.
The New Zealand Jewish Council has not formally reached a decision on this matter as yet.
Geoff Levy, Chairman of the New Zealand Jewish Council, says in his view a particular religious belief should not be taught in schools unless the school is a religious school, or set up as a school supporting a particular religious belief.
“I believe a comparative religion should be taught and in our diverse multicultural and multi-faith society, then individual pupils may contribute towards the class’s knowledge of how various practices and beliefs are manifested,” he says.
“Teaching about religion and beliefs is different from teaching a belief. In teaching comparative religion pupils would then be able to learn about other faiths and cultures and society will hopefully become more tolerant.”
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