Thursday, June 09, 2005

Freedom of religion is a two-way street

Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our public education system. State primary and secondary schools must be secular - that is, they must not ram religion down the throats of their pupils. Religious education may be offered at the discretion of the board of trustees, but it must be voluntary and (IIRC) offered outside school time. The reason for this is simple and obvious: the state should not be attempting to dictate or influence the religious choices of its citizens. Freedom of religion means a level playing field for all religious beliefs.

The move by Seaton School's board of trustees to ban meetings of a student Christian club violates this underlying principle. It also violates the Bill of Rights Act's affirmation that everyone is free to manifest their religious beliefs

in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private

It further violates the Human Rights Act's ban on discriminating on the grounds of religious or ethical belief, and particularly the ban on denying or restricting access to any benefits or services on the basis of those beliefs. If the school allows parent-organised clubs to meet on school premises, then it must do so on a neutral basis. Seatoun School is not. The school is crossing the line from offering a level playing field into promoting and discouraging particular religious beliefs. If they had banned Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu students from meeting, we would rightly cry "discrimination". We can do no less for Christians.


I was listening to Radio Rhema this morning and someone rang up and made a good point - that for trustees and the principal it may have just been to hard to administer adults running a club for school kids. She made the point that schools had to vet who was coming in, monitor the children, tidy and air classrooms, etc. etc.

Now I don't know if this is the case or what, but if they are discriminating on religious grounds then it should be stopped. By all means have these clubs of _all_ faiths, if nothing else it lets kids learn about world religions and practices.

The weird thing is it's been going for 3 years and now the problems occur. I'd like to know the real reason why the board made this decision.

Posted by Muerk : 6/09/2005 03:41:00 PM

It's a valid point, but the fact that its been going on for three years would undermine it.

I think the real reason is pretty obvious: the board changed, and the new board is less willing to accomodate the club than the old one.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/09/2005 03:58:00 PM,2106,3307348a6000,00.html

Here is a better article with more info. Seems it was because of the religious nature of the club. The parents and grans were police vetted, and the children attending had signed consent forms by their parents too. So I'm unsure why the board were anti.

"Ms Casey said the new board, elected last year, announced in February it would not let KidsKlub continue.

"They said it wasn't appropriate because it was religious," Ms Casey said."

Yup, go Sir Geoffrey. What if it was Muslim parents supervising their children's daily prayers? Or parents reading out the Buddhist sutras? Or Hindus reading picture books of Krsna's youth (which btw are super cutie :) Can you say bonny blue baby stealing butter, naughty little blue baby... Sorry, it's a mummy thing.

I know our kids attended a kindy that has Buddhist prayer flags flying in the playground, which as a Catholic family we had no problem with. Bring it on, faith practices and culture enriches our world and helps us understand others better.

Posted by Muerk : 6/09/2005 04:05:00 PM

Perhaps state supported religious schools could start throwing their doors open to faith (and atheist) meetings on their premises. Freedom of religion may be a two-way street, but so is tolerance and there is precious little of that in most, if not all religions.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 6/09/2005 04:29:00 PM

Of COURSE the school board is discriminating on religious grounds. The religious nature of the group was the SOLE reason that the group was asked to refrain from lunchtime meetings - despite nearly 25% of the schoolkids parents signing written letters stating their kids can attend.

Posted by Swimming : 6/09/2005 09:20:00 PM

Dave: In which case I look forward to seeing them get squicked - and squicked hard.

Uroskin: There's an exemption in the HRA for religious schools (and rightly so - it's a question of freedom of association). Whether the state should be giving any money to them is another question entirely.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/10/2005 01:18:00 AM

The real issue seems to have escaped discussion.

Clearly the school can regulate speech that occurs during class time. Equally clearly, the school cannot discriminate regarding activities after school.

The question is whether lunchtime is treated the same as the former category or the latter.

I can understand why a school might treat lunch time differently from after school. The kids are, for all practical purposes, required to be there, and the school is responsible for them.

On the whole I think the school is wrong in this case but it's not as clear cut as you suggest.

Posted by Nigel Kearney : 6/10/2005 09:43:00 AM

Nigel: while the students are required to be at the school, they're not required to be at the club, so it can't really be seen as violating the Education Act in that regard.

And again, I think the history counts against that. The club was allowed to run for three years without it being an issue. Why is it suddenly a problem?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/10/2005 10:04:00 AM