Kids 'punished' for opting out of bible class

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 20/04/2012

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Parents of public school students say their children are effectively being punished for not attending religious classes.

Schools are legally obliged to be secular, but under the Education Act they are allowed to close for an hour a week for instruction, as long as children can opt out.

Peter Harrison, the founder of Facebook group Keep Religion Out of Schools, says children who opt out of religious studies often feel isolated and are left with nothing to do.

''They are effectively treated the same as in detention,'' Harrison says.

''They feel ostracised when they're removed from class and as though they're excluded from fun with all the other kids.''

An anonymous parent says his daughter had to sit in a corner by herself while her peers participated in bible class.

''Peer pressure and fitting in is a big thing for kids. My daughter came home and said: 'I'm sorry mummy, I promise to be good next time', because she couldn't tell the difference between being punished and opting out.''

He says the school also misled parents by holding bible classes under the guise of its Values In Action programme.

It was only when his daughter came home and asked to meet God that he realised it was religious instruction.

''She was also told dinosaurs weren't real. It was the exact opposite of what she'd been taught in science class.''

The Churches Education Commission chief executive Simon Greening says 140 Auckland schools participate in their religious education programme.

Mairangi Bay School, Belmont Primary and Torbay School students are taught by commission volunteers for 30 minutes each week.

Classes are usually held from 9am to 9.30am.

Both Browns Bay and Campbells Bay School were also involved, but chose to stop the programme this year.

Greening says lessons are based around the eight core values in the New Zealand curriculum and are linked to stories from the Bible.

''A lot of the parents are pro because we're teaching values and they're open to that. Most complaints come from parents who have already opted their children out,'' Greening says.

Harrison says existing religious instruction is too exclusive and does not reflect New Zealand's multi-cultural profile.
He supports secular values teaching.

''I'm not suggesting a big bang class but something covering common values like tolerance, love and integrity. There's no reason we can't teach that without referring to some archaic document.''

Greening says it is up to each school how they implement the programme.  

''We are living in a global society now and it's important to learn about Christianity and other religions that are in the mix. That's why we are moving away from the Bibles in school titles.''

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