Schools choose 'opt in' for religious instruction

18:46, Jul 23 2014

More schools are choosing an ''opt in'' system to avoid backlash from parents unhappy about their children taking part in religious instruction.

Christchurch mum Tanya Jacob is leading the fight against a law that permits religion being taught in state schools after her son was made to wash dishes for opting out of bible class at his school

Secular Education Network (SEN) spokesman David Hines, who with Jacob is leading the Human Rights Commission complaint, says it is becoming more common for schools to adopt an opt-in process ''in response to criticism''.

Among those is Christchurch East School, whose commissioner, Michael Rondel, said in 2012 the school faced human rights complaints about parents having to opt children out of its religious instruction. '

''I made a decision to change from an opt-out process to an opt-in programme.''

Sessions were moved from morning to during lunchbreaks. The school had a large variety of religions and cultures, so ''it worked''. 


From the roll of 200, only 35 to 40 pupils opted in.

''It's about trying to find a solution to work for all parties,'' he said.

A SEN survey conducted with 1663 responses from a total  1833 state primary and intermediate schools found that 37.7 per cent offered religious instruction - 36.8 per cent in Canterbury, 17.9 per cent in Wellington, 33.3 per cent in Auckland, and 75.4 per cent in Southland.

Hines believed a full response would have shown well over 40 per cent nationally.

In the 2013 Census, 42 per cent of the population had no religious affiliation - a steady increase since the 29.6 per cent in 2001. The number of people classed as Christian decreased by nearly 7 per cent, while there was a large increase in people affiliated with Sikh, Hindu and Islam.

Hines believed boards of trustees should have to declare their religious affiliations before making decisions around bible studies in schools to avoid conflicts of interest.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said religion in schools was a ''vexed area'', and he would be open to a review of its inclusion in the Education Act.

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said that children who opted out of religious instruction at school were left open to discrimination, but it was up to boards of trustees to ensure that did not happen.

An online Fairfax  poll found that nearly 47 per cent of readers felt religion had no place in state education, more than 28 per cent said it did as long as pupils could opt out, and 25 per cent felt it had a place in religious schools.

Teaching religious education in schools has polarised Christchurch parents.

Some believe it should be taught, others are happy for their children to decide and some are vehemently against it.

The comments come after the Secular Education Network  called for a public review and report to Parliament on religion in schools.


Parent Leanne McCurrie said she did not have an issue with it. 

''It doesn't hurt them to learn good morals.''

She gave her 9-year-old twins the choice of studying religious education at their school and they both decided not to.

''I'm saving my brain for Super Mario,'' her son Ian Wildermoth, 9, said yesterday.

McCurrie's daughter Bree Wildermoth, 9, said she did not want to do it because it took up too much of her lunch break.

The children's school, Westburn, teaches religious education at lunch time and it is optional.

Parent Melanie Stryder said the world's history is based on religion and so much of what happens in the world today is based on religion so she believed it should be taught.

Parent Jo Cattermole said it was good for children to learn the meaning behind Easter and Christmas, although she believed it should not be compulsory.

Tenelle Mahan said she did not believe religious education should be taught in schools. 

The time should be spent on the core areas of education, like reading and writing, she said.

If parents wanted their children to learn about religion  they should teach it at home, Mahan said.

Nathan Daly said he was not really in favour of schools teaching religious education, but he would let his daughter choose.

The Press