Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Humanist Newsletter April 2020

Hi Mark there are 2 cartoons I emailed to include

With newsletter.Hope they will fit.

Kia ora: I am compiling this newsletter in a different world. For the past fortnight since lock-down I have not seen much beyond our backyard. I did go for a walk in the nearby College playing fields and saw the last blackberries, but could not reach to consume. However, scrolling my Facebook feed brings the world close with humour and sad reality. It is dismaying to see articles about religious congregations which, in defiance of Covid-19, continue to meet. It is devastating to see the effect of lockdown measures on poorer communities. The workers in India given a few hours notice to return to their villages with their livelihoods in tatters. Families in lockdown in Africa with no means of obtaining food. Leo Igwe is concerned that the spread of Covid-19 will precipitate more of the terrible witchcraft allegations which plague Africa. Economies are failing, connections are toppling like dominos. People are finding that their once secure jobs have gone. How will governments respond? But Nature seems to be rejoicing in the cessation of human activity. Rivers are clearing. India’s Ganges is almost free of industrial waste, air pollution is decreasing, the Milky Way can be seen again in San Francisco’s night sky, birds and animals are coming into villages and cities. Even grass is growing between the pavers in the front of Te Papa. Can we take up our human life again and be more mindful of our footprint? Humanist friends “Stay safe and Go well.”

Monthly meeting: Monday 6.30pm until 9.00pm

Meeting Cancelled due to Covid-19 Nationwide Lockdown

HOWEVER

On-Line Humanist Meet-Up

Monday 13 April 7.00 pm

This Meet-Up is under development, Look for our Meet-Up Event on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HumanistNZ/?ref=bookmarks We will give details how to join

“Jottings on Humanism in the time of the Pandemic” by Keith St Clair Butler

(Palmerston North)

In this time of the pandemic, ‘loving thy neighbour’ is taking on all too predictable manifestations in some quarters. Eschatology – telling you how the world will end – is part of the care package and it is big business. In physical lock down a particular cleric might be, but he roams into your bubble on You Tube. His video starts with rolling scenes of worldwide devastation but soon cuts to him, a bearded calm figure sitting behind a table which has on it a stack of his books (I counted 15). Soon after his opening exhortation to Allah, he turns his gaze to the book stack and muses on how he is a pioneer of eschatology in Islam. He then parks Allah, in order to get on with some temporal business; selling his books. A special is offered; complete book sets will be autographed by him and the buyers’ names inscribed therein.

Not to be outdone, the evangelists are also out and about. In the Bible love belt of the US Kenneth Copeland is berating his flock not to discontinue tithing during these difficult times. Scam evangelist Ted Bakker was flogging ‘Silver Sol liquid’ as a Coronavirus cure until the state of Missouri reigned him in, and Paula White, chair of the White House evangelical advisory committee is seeking funds for her City of Destiny, Florida, church. Using medical imagery she says, ‘Every single day we are a hospital to the sick, not necessarily the physically sick….but for those who are soul sick…’ She exhorts her listeners to donate $91 citing Psalm 91, or maybe ‘$9 or whatever God tells you to do.’ Bishop Tamaki from Destiny Church, NZ, detects something in the air. ‘Satan has control of atmospheres unless you’re a born again, Jesus loving, bible-believing, Holy Ghost-filled, tithe-paying believer.’ But all is not doom and gloom from that quarter. Safeguards from the virus are suggested. Tamaki recommends add on armour, the PS protection policy (Psalm 19 –‘Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.’) India offers holy shit; consuming cow dung and cow urine will stop the effects of Coronavirus according to Mahasab President, Chakrapani Maharaj.

The above representations probably belong to the extreme articulations of religion. No doubt mainstream churches, mosques and temples traditionally afford consolation and care to the masses and to this end the atheist Biblical scholar Bart Herman speculates that early Christianity ushered in a unique system of general care for people. Further, in these modern times, people in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam generally disavow themselves of the misogyny, homophobia, enslavement, murder and other violence endorsed by Old Testament passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Why they do so is likely due to influences outside their sacred texts such as modern democracy, common sense, and the fact of Science providing more answers once attributed to God-of-the-gap thinking (Volcanoes erupt; god must be angry). My wife, who is Catholic, is an immediate and soothing testament to all of that in our current bubble wrap lives by her daily acts of reaching out to all; photos of scribblings by our grandson leave Leonardo Da Vinci wanting; phone calls to older friends in isolation are prioritised over Netflix; our mower of lawns (a fortnightly luxury) texted to thank her for the payment he received during lockdown, when he could not mow the lawns, and said his wife was in tears at this gesture.

So what is the role of Humanism in the time of the pandemic? If Humanism mandates scientific solutions in pandemics instead of turning to The Divine Physician, then science by humans for humans – doctors, pharmacists, nurses, carers,– the first responders in this battle to save human life are of primacy. I imagine there is intense drama and dread in the lives of scientists scrambling to create a vaccine. Gazing past this pandemic, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris opines, “More value will be placed on the scientific community.’ Nor do Humanists stop there. Robert Peckham of the University of Hong Kong poses a question to himself, ‘What use is a humanist when a fever is raging in the house? ‘Crucially important,’ he argues. ‘So many facets of the coronavirus outbreak lie beyond the technical scope of biomedicine, from the social world of the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, where the novel virus reportedly emerged, to the panic that China’s urban lockdown has induced.’ Life under Covid-19 has forced humans to consider, far beyond medicine, the ethics of how we live, survive, care, share, eat, die, bury, on a global scale

Another question could be posed: Will the pandemic give Humanism a shot in the arm? Tamaki, for instance, would probably disagree. He has studied Biblical pestilences. “Remember, way back, the Black Death . . .’ Tamaki puts his faith in god for the continuance of his church. Joshua Sperber also looks back for historical perspective in his “Coronavirus and the Rise and Fall of Humanism:.

‘It is a truism that the Black Death helped produce the age of humanism. Through making death ever-present, the plague undermined a system of religious authority in which the church and the church alone claimed to have answers to the fundamental questions of human existence; the priests naturally still asserted that this was the case but were now as likely as not to drop dead once they did so.’

However, the future works out, we will have a future. There is every reason to believe the human race will survive this pandemic. Will eschatology? As for our erstwhile profiteering cleric on You Tube; will he provide refunds because his books were fake news?

Advocacy work to remove Religious Instruction from State schools continues:

Submission on the Education and Training Bill 193-1

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.) (HSNZ) is a democratic and secular organisation formed in 1967 that promotes secularism and Human Rights in New Zealand.

Historical Background to our submission In 1877 New Zealand’s first national Education Act, the Education Act 1877, replaced various and different provincial Education Acts following the abolition of the provinces. This Act had three very important provisions – it made education in New Zealand free, compulsory, and secular. New Zealand was the first country to achieve all three objectives in education: free compulsory, and secular. The new Act made New Zealand a world leader in 1877 and the Act was a model for many countries around the world and was subsequently used in Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Section 84 (2.) of the Education Act 1877 Act read:

The school shall be kept open five days in each week for at least four hours, two of which in the forenoon and two in the afternoon shall be consecutive, and the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character.

The 1877 Act was replaced by the Education Act 1914. Section 56 (4.) of the 1914 Act repeated the same wording as Section 84 (2) of the 1877 Act without any changes.

The intention of section 84 (2) of the 1877 Act was clear and well known at the time. It was to provide a secular an neutral environment for the education of pupils of differing and all denominations and religions without any concern that they might be subjected to religious indoctrination, particularly in a denomination or sect that did not conform to the beliefs of their parents. School education was to be secular while religious instruction was to be carried out on Sundays. The Act provided an open environment where pupils of all faiths and beliefs could mix with and get to know and become friends with other pupils of different ethical and religious beliefs.

Such an environment is known to reduce sectarian problems in societies and is a significant reason that New Zealand has had so few problems of this nature. Countries where pupils are divided on sectarian grounds and educated in different schools are known to have a higher probability of developing inter-denominational or religious strife.

The Education Act 1964 replaced the 1914 Act Section 77 of this Act replaced Section 56 (4) of the 1914 Act. Section 77 read:

77. State primary schools to be kept open at certain times Except to the extent that—

(a) A school term commences on any day other than a Monday or ends with any day other than a Friday; or

(b) A school is lawfully closed pursuant to section 129C of this Act,— every State primary school shall be kept open 5 days in each week for at least 4 hours each day, of which hours 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon shall be and the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character.

While this repeated the secular intention of the 1877 Act, the 1964 Act introduced for the first time Section 78 which read:

78. Religious instruction and observances in State primary schools

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in section 77 of this Act, if the School Committee for the school district in which the school is situated, after consultation with the Principal, so determines, any class or classes at the school, or the school as a whole, may be closed at any time or times of the school day for any period or periods exceeding in the aggregate neither 60 minutes in any week nor 20 hours in any school year, for any class, for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors approved by the School Committee and of religious observances conducted in a manner approved by the School Committee or for either of those purposes; and the school buildings may be used for those purposes or for either of them.

This practice of closing schools to allow religious instruction began in Nelson in the early 1900s and began to spread to the rest of the country. But the practice was of dubious legality as it was a clear attempt to subvert the law and the intention of the parliaments of 1877 and 1914 and had been challenged. Rather than tackle the problem, in 1964, parliament now sought to legalise the practice. Problems with the practice soon arose and include:

·         Religious instruction was not education about religion or religions carried out by trained teachers but a form of indoctrination in a particular religion or set of denominations carried out by volunteers.

·         Parents were often not notified of the religious instruction taking place in the school.

·         Parents had to opt their children out of the religious instruction rather than opt them in.

·         Often parents could not opt the children out because they were not informed of the religious instruction and did not know that it was taking place.

·         Often the School Committee were unaware of the instruction taking place and had not approved it –principals approved the practice without the Committee’s knowledge.

·         Often the School Committee, principal and parents did not understand the nature and content of the instruction.

·         When children were opted out, they were made to pick up rubbish or similar activities that were seen by the children as a punishment given for reasons they did not understand.

·         At other times children were confined to a room and given mundane tasks.

·         Children kept away from religious instruction classes were often ostracised or bullied by the children who were not kept out of the religious instruction classes.

·         Allowing parents to keep their children out of the school while the school was supposedly “closed” was not an option as the school could be “closed” at any time during the normal school day, for example from 11 AM to 12 PM.

For these reasons, we consider that the provisions of Section 78 of the 1964 Act were intrinsically wrong and should never have been enacted.

We consider that religious instruction of this nature conflicts with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 Section 13 which reads 

13 Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference

Religious instruction of a child or observances that conflict with a person’s thoughts, conscience, and religion that are imposed on child without the opt-in option being properly applied are a breach of this section. Allowing schools to close for instruction by one religion and not another or for those without belief is discriminatory. Allowing religious instruction in schools is a breach of the principal of the separation of state and religion.

We also consider that religious instruction conflicts with the Human Rights Act 1993 Section 21 because it relates to instruction in just one or a limited set of denominations and because it has an opt-out rather than an opt-in provision. The Human Rights Act 1993 reads:

21 Prohibited grounds of discrimination

(1) For the purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are—

(c) religious belief:

(d) ethical belief, which means the lack of a religious belief, whether in respect of a particular religion or religions or all religions:

The Human Rights Act 1993 binds the crown (Section 3).

Under a process known as consistency 2000, all Acts of parliament were supposedly amended to conform with the Human Rights Act 1993 by the year 2000. However, in a gross omission, no amendments were made to bring any New Zealand Act into conformity with section 21 (c) and (d) of the Human Rights Act that relate to discrimination on the grounds of religion or ethical belief! One of the most glaring examples of this failure was Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 that made blasphemy against the tenets of the Anglican church a crime but not blasphemy against any other denomination or religion.

Discrimination on the grounds of religion or ethical belief also conflicts with international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights that New Zealand has ratified.

We have not considered the whole Bill in detail but wish to comment on three clauses in the Education and Training Bill 193-1 that relate to the separation of religion and state.

Comments and recommendations

1.                   Clause 48.

48 Release from tuition on religious or cultural grounds

(1) This section applies to students enrolled at a State school.

(2) A student over the age of 16 years, or a parent of a student under the age of 16 years, may ask the principal to release the student from tuition in a particular class or subject.

(3) A request under subsection (2) must be made in writing and at least 24 hours before the start of the tuition.

(4) The principal may not release the student unless satisfied that—

(a) the parent or student has asked because of sincerely held religious or cultural views; and

(b) the student is to be adequately supervised (whether within or outside the school) during the period of release from tuition.…

A modern society is built on the foundations of rational and scientific thought. Hard won, evidence based, and well debated scientific thought and knowledge should not be pushed aside by viewpoints that deny or ignore reality. A child whose education omits an evidence-based description of the world in which we live enters the adult world handicapped and impaired.

We do not support legislation that allows the removal of a child under 16 from a science or any other class on dubious or unspecified religious or cultural grounds. This clause, as drafted, allows parents to withdraw their children from core science education classes, from valuable human biology, sex education, and relationship education classes, or from other classes that are a necessary and vital constituent of our social world. The children may be withdrawn on very dubious grounds without even the need to show or prove that the classes conflict with the religious or cultural beliefs of the parents. Parents might withdraw their children even when their religious leaders do not consider it necessary.

Recommendation: that clause 48 (2) be amended to read as follows.

(2) A student over the age of 16 years, or a parent of a student under the age of 16 years, may ask the principal to release the student from tuition in a particular class or subject, provided that this particular class or subject does not cover or include Science, Health and Physical Education, or core curriculum subjects defined by the Ministry of Education.

2.                   Clause 56

3.                   56 Student attendance at religious instruction must be confirmed

(1) A student enrolled at a State school may only attend or take part in any religious instruction at the school if a parent of the student has confirmed in writing to the principal that they wish for the student to take part or attend.

(2) A parent who has given an indication of wishes under subsection (1) may withdraw it.

We support the requirement that parents must ‘opt-in’ their child for religious instruction rather than the previous arrangement where a child had to be ‘opted-out’. The ‘opting-out’mechanism has caused misunderstanding and confusion for parents and their children for many years and led to the various problems outlined in the historical background above.

However, we consider that in order to overcome all the problems associated with religious instruction in schools outlined above, the highly discriminatory nature of religious instruction, and to maintain the principals of separation of religion and state there should be no religious instruction in schools. Clause 56 should be abolished and religious instruction prohibited.

We would however support good quality education about religions in schools (religious education) where the state maintains a syllabus that includes all major religions and non-religious ethical beliefs, and where the teachers are properly trained state employed professional teachers and independent of any religious organisation.

Recommendation: That Clause 56 religious instruction be abolished and replaced by a clause that prohibits religious instruction or alternatively prohibits religious instruction but permits good quality state regulated religious education classes.

3.                   Clause 57

57 Student attendance at religious observances not compulsory

(1) A student enrolled at a State school may not required to attend or take part in any religious observances if a parent of the student does not wish the student to take part and makes this wish known in writing to the principal.

(2) A parent who has given an indication of wishes under subsection (1) may withdraw it.

Clause 57 needs the word “be” to be inserted between the words “not” and “required”.

This clause retains an ‘opt-out’ condition rather than an ‘opt in’ condition introduced with Clause 56.

We strongly recommend that this be changed to an ‘opt-in’ option as for Clause 56.

We also consider that Clause 57 should be abolished as it is discriminatory to allow a religious observance of just one religion or denomination and not allow all religions and ethical beliefs to participate. In any event to allow all would be impractical in most cases. The Clause also has the potential to allow some religious observances to take place that many parents may not agree with. 

Recommendation: That clause 57 be abolished or at the very least be made an ‘opt-in’ system. If it is made ‘opt-in’ we suggest that clause 57 should read:

57 Student attendance at religious observances is optional

1.   A student enrolled at a State school may attend or take part in any religious observances only if a parent of the student wishes the student to do so and makes this wish known in writing to the principal.

2.   A parent who has given an indication of wishes under subsection (1) may withdraw it.