Wednesday, January 29, 2014

School religious education goes to the HRC

New Zealand has a fairly good approach towards religious education in schools: education must be secular, but schools can hold voluntary religious education classes outside school hours (or "close" for the purpose). This respects both the freedom of religion of religious parents to choose that they want their kids to be educated in this way, and the freedom from religion of non-religious parents. But there's a problem: children who do not participate in such classes are often made to feel excluded, or even punished for not doing so. Now that issue is the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission:

Christian education in state schools is in the spotlight after a parent laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission about bible lessons at an East Auckland primary.

Roy Warren, whose 5-year-old son goes to St Heliers School, says he complained to the principal about the 30-minute sessions but the school refused to cease the classes.

Families can opt out of the programme but Warren did not want to isolate his son.

"I thought it was very unfair to take him away from his classmates and get him sitting by himself colouring in and making him feel ostracised," he says.

"And then have to explain to him he hasn't been bad or naughty, but it's just against what we believe in as a family."

The obvious solution here is to make these classes opt-in rather than opt-out. This removes the social stigma, and makes it clear religion is voluntary rather than the default. Hopefully the HRC will recommend this solution.