One of the freedoms we take for granted in New Zealand is freedom of religion. People are free to believe as they like, and worship as they like. Except, apparently, if they are Catholic and in prison. This week's NZ Catholic (offline) reports that Corrections have recently reversed longstanding practice, and started applying the ban on alcohol in prisons to visiting priests - meaning that prisoners cannot celebrate mass. United Future MP Peter Dunne is attacking this decision as "political correctness gone mad", but he's wrong. It's "'tough on crime' gone mad" - and part of the blame for the hardline approach can be laid squarely at the feet of parties like Dunne's, who have whipped up public fear and hatred of criminals as a lazy way of winning votes.
Snarky semantics aside, Dunne is completely right in considering this a violation of fundamental human rights. The celebration of mass is a vital part of Catholic religious observance, and preventing it effectively prevents them from properly practicing their religion. While the Corrections Act 2004 defines alcohol as an "unauthorised item", it also requires prison managers to provide for prisoners varying spiritual and religious needs, "so far as is reasonable and practicable". And of course s15 of the BORA affirms the freedom of every person to practice their religion in public or private, individually or with others. I have no doubt that if this policy was challenged in court, Corrections' policy would be found to be unreasonable, and the Corrections Act would be "read down" so as to be given an interpretation consistent with the BORA, as required by s6. The question is whether Corrections will waste public money defending the indefensible, or whether they'll admit their mistake and reverse their policy. Unfortunately, looking at their past behaviour, I suspect they'll choose the former.