'Kitchen work' for no-bible student

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014
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A Christchurch mother is leading the fight against a law that permits teaching religion in state schools amid claims her son "was made to wash dishes" after she chose to opt him out of the lessons.

Tanya Jacob says she pulled her son out of Harewood School in 2012 after first opting him out of the religious classes for three years.

She claims he was being "snuck back in the classes" or in conjoining rooms sorting books "within earshot" and the school was repeatedly asked to have him completely removed, but then he was made to do dishes.

Jacob is part of a group, the Secular Education Network, which has laid a complaint about the Ministry of Education with the Human Rights Commission, and asked for a public review and report to Parliament on religion in schools.

"Kids that do these classes are given lollies for believing in God, and the ones that don't are made to pick up rubbish."

Her son was reluctant to go to school on bible days, and by the end he was "anxious, tearful, and confused at how he was treated by the children and the staff.

"This really hurt our family."

Harewood School principal Julie Greenwood said its board of trustees made the decision to bring volunteers in to deliver religious instruction while the school was officially closed for 30 minutes a week, for about three-quarters of the year. But parents could opt out "and that's perfectly fine".

"While we offer this programme, those who choose to opt out are in no way discriminated against. The children are actively supervised in the library during the 30-minute sessions."

Jacob's son was the only child who opted out at the time, and "obviously systems were different". He was "not put to work".

Jacob said her family was not opposed to religion, but schools that were meant to be "melting pots" of different religions and cultures were essentially "handing over a captive congregation" to one particular church group.

"If we can't send our children to their local school without fear of religious discrimination, what are we left with?"

Secular Education Network spokesman David Hines said a complaint about the ministry regarding bibles in schools was sent to the Human Rights Commission on Friday, asking for a review, and repeal of section 77-80 of the Education Act 1964.

It was "badly drafted", and offered ways around the definition of "free, compulsory and secular" public education. "We want to close the door on it completely."

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said it was up to individual boards to decide whether religious instruction be included.

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