School Bible studies challenged

PARENT'S CHOICE: Roy Warren has taken his son’s school to the Human Rights Commission over ‘‘discriminatory’’ bible studies classes.
PARENT'S CHOICE: Roy Warren has taken his son’s school to the Human Rights Commission over ‘‘discriminatory’’ bible studies classes.

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."

Warren appeared at a Human Rights Commission mediation this month with school representatives to try and find a solution.

The mediation is still under way and Warren is feeling positive.

"I'm happy that they are considering options and taking it seriously," he says.

David Hines from the Secular Education Network is supporting Warren's standpoint.

Hines says the network wants religious education removed from state schools but would be happy to see a compromise.

"One school on the North Shore has shifted religious education to the lunchtime and parents have to give consent for their children to take part rather than opting out."

The Education Act allows a school to close for up to 60 minutes a week for religious instruction, if its board of trustees approves.

Warren says there are around a dozen parents from St Heliers School who support him and at least one other parent is laying another complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

The programme is run by the Churches Education Commission, which acts on behalf of Christian churches to teach religious education in state schools.

The sessions are largely promoted as values teaching, but Hines says this is misleading.

"I went through the 18 lessons and every one of them is about God. For 18 weeks these children are being told to believe in God. It's evangelistic," he says.

Simon Greening from the Churches Education Commission says the organisation believes it is good for children to learn about religion and that school boards should have support systems for parents who opt out.

"We believe it's important that parents have good information about the programme - and that parents know best what they want for their children," he says.

St Heliers School surveyed the school community following Warren's complaint.

Figures supplied by the board of trustees show that only 41 per cent of parents voted. Of those, 67 per cent were in favour, 18 per cent were against and 13 per cent were neutral.

East And Bays Courier