School Bible lessons 'un-Christian' - reverend

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 17/07/2012

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An Auckland church leader has joined a secular campaign against Bible lessons in schools.

Reverend Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-City said Christian education in public schools should be "swept into the ash can of history".

St Matthew-in-the-City, in central Auckland, is no stranger to controversy due to its controversial billboards.

"It's un-Christian to force our faith on other people," Nelson said.

"If we went to another country who accepted us as residents and they told us our children have to be taught another religion we would not feel good about that."

Public schools are secular, but a loophole in the rules allows schools to "close" during class time for religious volunteers to teach Bible-based values.

Parents can opt out if they do not want their children to attend.

However, parents in the Secular Education Network are concerned children who opt-out are singled out by their peers for not participating.

In the United States, where Nelson is from, public schools are not allowed to hold Bible classes.

Nelson said it should be the same because the Bill of Rights guaranteed a separation of state and church and it is unacceptable to coerce children of different faiths into Christian education.

"There's nothing wrong with value classes but it should be part of the curriculum taught by the teacher. It should not be someone coming from outside who has no accountability.

"New Zealand has changed a lot and frankly Christianity is too diverse for a volunteer in the community to come in and teach a class with really no vetting."

The Churches Education Commission, the biggest provider of Christian instruction in schools, earlier defended the Bible classes as value-based learning.

A CEC spokesperson told Fairfax the classes were a way to make people aware of Christianity and teach values, rather than convert children.

Individual boards of trustees decide whether to allow Christian education in their schools.

In 2006, the Government back-tracked on a proposal to move to an "opt-in" provision for religious education following a public outcry.

A Ministry of Education spokesperson last month said there were no plans to amend the legislation.

Teachers' union NZEI also saw no reason in reviewing the rules of religious instruction in public schools.

A recent Fairfax readers' survey found parents were split on the issue.

Last month's poll found 49 per cent of respondents were against religious studies in primary schools, and 43 per cent in favour, with eight per cent undecided.

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- Auckland Now

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