Bibles in schools divide leaders

Jewish, Buddhist and Christian leaders have joined a movement against Bible classes in schools.

This comes as Bible teachers, feeling persecuted over the movement to ban Bible classes, have planned a prayer vigil at the Churches Education Commission headquarters in Auckland on Monday.

Commission chief executive Simon Greening said they have faced pockets of criticism in the past, but this was the first time a concerted campaign had been set up against them.

The commission is the biggest provider of Christian instruction in schools, teaching at about 800 schools nationwide.

The Secular Education Group announced new members of the movement to ban the classes this week, including those of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist faith.

Jewish member of the secular group, Goldie Hamilton, said it seemed wrong that parents who enrol their children in a public school have the choice between indoctrinating them into a particular religion or excluding children from class.  

Jewish students must feel confused or even upset by learning the Christian perspective of the Bible, she said.

"Values should be taught in an inclusive and truly enlightened manner."

Auckland Sunday School teacher Jenna Johnson-Aufai said she wanted religious education to be multi-faith.

The Secular Education Group has also invited concerned parents to join them for a "parent support meeting" in Auckland tomorrow.

"This is an opportunity for parents who have concerns or issues with religion in school to come along and get advice and support from other parents dealing with similar issues," network organiser Peter Harrison said.

"It is also an opportunity for parents to build their own local support groups."

He said since their campaign launched in March, their Facebook group had grown to 235 members.

The meeting will take place at Rationalist House, on Symonds St, at 5pm.

Central Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City welcomed a debate on the Bible in Schools programmes. 

Reverend Glynn Cardy said the church would support the replacement of the programme with a religious lesson.

St Matthew's associate priest Clay Nelson has already voiced concerns the Bible lessons breached the separation of church from state.

Nelson said Christian education in public schools should be "swept into the ash can of history". 

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

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

Children are taught a range of values, including humility, honesty and respect.

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. 

The commission has stood by its lesson as a way to teach values.

Greening said Bible teachers, many of them retirees and aged over 70, are discouraged by the bad press.

Teachers receive 10 hours training about what's acceptable to teach, but he said the rules are broken occasionally.

This is partly because teachers were brought up in a different era of Christian teaching, he said.

The commission had hoped to recruit younger teachers but it was difficult as people needed to be available during the working week.

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 said last month 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.

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