Time to broaden religious scope

MATTHEW DALLAS
Last updated 12:00 13/02/2014

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It is baffling that in 2014 the old church and state debate keeps rearing its incongruous head.

Auckland parents, or at least a few noisy ones, are delighted their children's school has axed its religious studies programme.

Roy Warren and Maheen Mudannayake had made complaints to the Human Rights Commission, claiming the classes for Year 1 and Year 2 pupils at St Heliers School - which featured Bible stories, songs, crafts and drama - discriminated against non-Christians and had no place at secular schools.

St Heliers' board of trustees now appears to agree with them, though the main reason given for the back-down was it would help teachers struggling to fit their curriculum into a congested timetable.

The school plans to continue the religious lessons but in a less offensive after-school time-slot when kids who don't attend won't feel excluded.

Some people might argue that when they get to high school it is the devoutly Christian kids who face awkward exclusion, be it from field trips or sex education classes. But others would argue they should therefore attend a private school that better suits their families' beliefs.

For St Heliers, in one sense, it is a case of the penny finally dropping. The public primary school I attended bypassed such contention at least 30 years ago, with the weekly scripture class held each Wednesday in the 30 minutes before the 9am bell rang.

It's a wonder more schools haven't saved themselves the anxiety - though the tide is turning. According to the Secular Education Network, 60 public schools have cancelled religious instruction classes in school hours in the past three years.

In another sense, we can't help feeling these schools are taking an easy, somewhat negative option and missing an opportunity.

Rather than throw out the Bible with the bath water, schools would do better to update and broaden their religious syllabus.

Real religious studies - not just Christianity - would benefit every child in New Zealand. As our nation's cultural diversity increases, understanding and respecting the beliefs of others is just as important as the development of one's own.

We only have to look at the ignorance and prejudice that still exists in our own generations to know why.

Noah's flood, David's sling, Dharma, Karma, the prophecies of Muhammad, the Noble Truths of Buddha - teach it all and throughout their schooling.

To expose children at a secular school to one belief system - regardless of its positive principles - at the exclusion of others is akin to teaching maths or science from a textbook dated 1975.

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- Manawatu Standard

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