I feel fortunate to be alive at a time when so much is now known about our origins. I am glad that in our society we are free to explore different ways of thinking and to have the written word which has kept for us the development of thinking from long past centuries. Modern communication technology has vastly increased the rapidity of the spread of thoughts and ideas. Sam Harris, at the Melbourne Atheist Convention, said that the basis for all religions has been humanity’s fear of death. Humans over the centuries have always wished for some assurance to see loved ones after death. Ayaan Hirsi Ali says in her book Infidel (Chapter 7) – “Religion gave me a sense of peace only from its assurance of a life after death.” Lawrence Krauss, also an Atheist Convention speaker, was poetic when he described how we came from the stars. Lawrence, speaking about his recent book A Universe from Nothing, described our left and right hands as coming from stardust – “from star dust we came and to star dust we will return”. He continued with “a star died for us”, referring to the death of the ancient stars that created the elements, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and the resulting supernova that spread the material building blocks for new star systems and planets out into space. “So forget Jesus, stars died so that you could live.”
Monthly Meeting: Monday 6 August
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
A Personal Journey
From within the Jehovah Witness community to the outside world
Johnny Aqel, who spent his early life with the Jehovah Witness community, will discuss core Jehovah Witness beliefs and his experience as a young person with this community. As a young adult he questioned these beliefs. Johnny will outline the transition he made as he left his family and community and adjusted to life in the outside world.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend..
Refreshments and nibbles provided
Come, share your views, and learn from others
Venue for meeting:
Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm
Radio Access: Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 18 August, 15 September, 13 October 2012, and 10 November.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.
Previous July Meeting:
Pamela and Iain tackled the difficult task of reporting on two days and two evenings of the Melbourne Atheist Convention with more than 30 speakers and entertainers in an hour and a half with estimable results. Pamela opened with an excellent summary of the main themes of the convention and detailed coverage of a number of speakers was provided.
2011- 2012 Subscriptions:
Thank you to those conscientious members who have paid their subscriptions for the 2011-2012 year.
Subscriptions were due following the AGM on 29th October 2011 and remain unchanged from the previous year.
A subscription renewal form was posted to members last year with a printed newsletter and an email giving details of how to renew your subscription using internet banking was sent on 27 January this year.
Eileen Bone Scholarship recipient:
Darryn Kouoi 2011, Deputy Head Boy at Naenae College, received this scholarship towards his study at Victoria University this year. Darryn, the son of Cambodia refugees, is studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce conjoint with Science or Arts. Darryn has an interest in literature which was Eileen’s passion. We wish Darryn success with his studies and thank the Eileen Bone Humanist Trust for making this scholarship available.
In March, Humanist member Simon Vogel, who was the loved partner of Joelle Nicholson, died. Simon had been frail for some time and our thoughts are with Joelle and her family. Simon lived at Lake Manapouri where he helped Joelle run Lake View Motels on the edge of the lake.
Female Genital Mutilation:
Wellington member, Peter Clemerson, drafted a letter which we have sent to a number of professional medical organizations expressing our concern that female genital mutilation (FGM), though illegal, may be occurring in New Zealand. On 15 January this year, reporter Neil Reid wrote a report on a UN report that suggested that migrant girls in Australia and New Zealand are ‘at risk’ of undergoing FGM even though our Ministry of Health says that this terrible practice is not happening in our country. On 17 January Waris Dirie posted an article on her blog reporting this (see link from www.desertflowerfoundation.org), and a few days later, 24 January, Renee from NZ posted a comment:
We in fact KNOW that FGM IS happening in NZ, all the health and community workers KNOW this and NO-ONE is doing anything about this…yet. My Great Uncle Noel has produced a report on this (13 pages) from interviews with police officers, community workers, social workers, ex Somali Council members, Somali Research Network, Refugees as Survivors Trust, and staff at the Wellington Public Hospital providing a very real insight as to what is happening and how genital mutilation is occurring – it is not an uncommon practice and the NZ laws are not being followed or upheld by the Police. Almost every person he interviewed said the practice must stop, but no-one was prepared to report or act on what they were seeing.
We thank Peter for the further investigation he is doing.
Michael Fairburn, from the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH) attended our recent Humanist committee meeting and we are pleased to join with them in the campaign to relook at the place of religious instruction in schools. The Sunday Star Times, June 17, ran an article on religious education in schools, and in their next issue June 24, an article by Marika Hill reported that David Mulholland, Director of the Churches Education Commission, had said in one of their recent newsletters:
Churches by and large have not woken up to the fact that this is a mission field on our doorstep.
Returning to the 2012 Melbourne Atheist Convention, this is remarkably similar to what Dr Leslie Cannold, Australian Humanist of the Year in 2011, mentioned in her talk on Separating Church and State, prepared with Max Wallace, director of the Australian National Secular Association. Leslie told us that the CEO of Access Ministries, Yvonne Patterson, had said:
our greatest field for disciple making, Christian conversion and church growth is among our school children.
Two internet sites have been set up to coordinate action and information. These are www.reason.org.nz and www.facebook.com/KeepReligionOutOfSchoolNZ . In the Billboard campaign of 2010, one of the billboards said ‘We can be good without God’. Ethical behaviour can be taught without recourse to religion. Harry Gardiner from the Victorian Humanists in Melbourne worked for a long time on this issue and reports on his work can be found in the Victoria Humanists newsletters. New South Wales Humanists considered “values and ethical behaviour programmes” but found it difficult to find people with the required teaching skills. Nevertheless, a non-religious ethics programme has now been started in New South Wales schools. See: http://www.primaryethics.com.au/ .
Jack Mulheron 1924-2006 and the Struggle to protect Secular Education:
With the emergence of the present debate we can look back to the work of Jack Mulheron. Jack was a school teacher in the Wellington area. As a young teacher taking up a new teaching position in a Porirua State School he was surprised to find that religious prayers and music were being played at 9 am each morning over the school intercom to every classroom. He informed the principal that from the passing of the New Zealand Education Act 1877, education was required to be secular, prohibiting religious observance. Jack, became an office holder in the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), and concerned with the 1975 Private Schools Integration Act, formed the Committee for the Defense of Secular Education (CDSE). CDSE was concerned that NZEI was not doing enough to protect the secular nature of our schools. As secretary and spokesperson for the CDSE Jack became a nationally known figure during the late 1970s and 1980s. An article by Iain Middleton in New Zealand Humanist 2006, describes the 135 year struggle to keep schools secular and Jack’s part in this struggle (see below).
Bus Advertising Campaign:
After initial indications that they would, New Zealand Bus in December 2009 refused to take the advertisement “There’s probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life” on their buses in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. We wrote to The Office of Human Rights Proceedings asking if they would take up this case of discrimination. They indicating at first that they would, but have now advised that they will not! We are disappointed with this decision and considering options.
We will support this new Bill being introduced to Parliament by Labour MP Louise Wall. Our Society supports equal rights, supporting Homosexual Law Reform in the 1980s and the Civil Union Bill in 2004 and 2005. Kent Stevens and I held a banner of congratulations for John Jolliff and Des Smith at their Civil Union celebration, which was the first civil union registered in May 2005.
Evolution, the Real Genesis, NOT by design BUT by chance events:
These four lectures were taken from Part One of a book Professor Geering is currently writing, detailing how the development of the universe provided the conditions for human evolution. Part Two describes how humankind developed the concept of God – how we made God! I look forward to the lectures drawn from this second part, and reading the completed book. The recent Part One series will be available on a DVD.
Nepal’s Humanist School:
Eleanor Middleton who spoke about Nepal at our March meeting has written a travel blog on her time spent volunteering in Northern India and her 10 days in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she visited the Humanist School. I am including a short excerpt and you may like to read more by googling Eleanor and the Elephants.
I spent my last few days in Nepal staying with my friends Uttam and Apsara at their flat in Kathmandu. Uttam founded and runs an NGO based in Kathmandu, the Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal (http://www.sochnepal.org/). I could write pages here about the economic, political and social issues that SOCH are currently tackling in Nepal; so I am going to focus on one development which occurred during my visit. The purchase of a new school in Kathmandu, Harvard International School.
The two main aspirations SOCH holds for its new school are to provide a modern and stimulating style of education and to provide a school environment which is welcoming to all the religious and ethnic groups within Nepal, and to children from all socio-economic groups and castes. I had the privilege of spending a day at the school, becoming familiar with the teaching system in place in Nepal, and meeting with the students. I accompanied the school’s new director, who was also acquainting himself with the pupils.
I could launch into a funny story about getting thrown into a room full of 16 year old, hormone driven, teenage boys or I could tell you about exchanging national anthems with the kids, or the dance off we had in another class. But none of those were the moment in which I knew I had to return to Nepal. We visited each class in turn, got to know the kids, what they enjoyed, what classes they liked, their hobbies, and finally asked each student what they wanted their school to provide for them. “Dance Classes!!! Music!!! A Sports Ground!!! Computer Access!!!” One girl in 6th class stood out to me, she was much smaller than the other girls in her class and had pixie like features. When we asked her class what they wanted, she stuck her hand up in the air and piped up “Please Sir, could you build us a library? So we can read more books”. That’s the moment when I realised how lucky I have always been.
Here in New Zealand, we take education for granted. A school library isn’t something you ask for, politely with a please. It’s something you just expect to be there. Then at the end of the day, it gets neglected, and not seen as anything special by the majority of children. These kids wanted to learn. I was leaving Nepal the following evening; I wanted to do something, to volunteer at the school. Everything was set for me to go home. It broke my heart as she asked for a library, I wished I could have stayed and done something, helped with the development of the new school, made myself useful. That was the moment I knew that it wasn’t a maybe, I would be returning to Nepal. I’ve never been an activist. I guess I’ve always sat in my bedroom or in front of the evening news wishing the world was a better place. I guess that is what most of us do, and what I’m still doing upon my return. Ever since I visited Harvard International School, I’ve wanted to go back and hoped that I will be able to save enough money to return. But now in the light of the latest unrest in Nepal and the dissolution of Nepal’s four year old constitution assembly, I have decided I want to do something. Even if it’s just making sure that one little girl gets her library.
It has been a practice in Nepal to give schools foreign names to attract students, regardless of any foreign connection. In recent weeks, however, there have been a series of attacks on and burning of school buses, in front of pupils, in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal by Maoist groups. Schools that have foreign names or connections being targeted. As a consequence, the school mentioned above, which is entirely Nepalese owned, is likely to change its name.
North Shore Discussion Group:
North Shore discussion Group: Warren Atkins, a North Shore Humanist hosts a discussion group on a casual basis in this area. Warren may be contacted for more information on 09 410 3580. Warren is also an author and artist with a website www.warrenkarno.com for you to explore.
Gisborne Lunar Society:
The Gisborne Lunar Society meets once a month on the Sunday nearest the full moon at 11am. Contact John Marks on 06 867 9768 or Kevin Hyde 06 868 5253.
Did you know?:
Quantum mechanics use very small spanners!
Jack Mulheron and the Defence of Secular Education
New Zealand has a free public education system that is both compulsory, and secular. It is one of the longest standing education systems of this nature in the world, but there has been a long struggle, lasting 135 years so far, to keep it that way.
The first schools in New Zealand to teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills were established by missionaries with the intention of educating the Maori population while simultaneously promoting Christianity. After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, there was an influx of settlers from Britain and a growing need to educate their children, a need that was initially met by the missionaries. But with the sparse population and the various denominations this led to children travelling long distances, bypassing schools of other denominations to reach one that matched their parents’ choice.
Experiments soon emerged where schools were established to cater for children from various protestant denominations. Because the different denominations could not agree on the religious instruction to be given in these schools, the majority of teaching was entirely of a secular nature with religious instruction restricted to specific hours where the children could be divided as necessary. An early school established in 1840 along these lines in Nelson lasted a year before it collapsed and was sold to the Catholic Church, but other schools were soon established operating along similar lines. Catholics, however, insisted that their children must be educated in Catholic schools and did not support multi-denominational schools.
During the period from 1840 to 1852, with insufficientschools, teachers, and funding, many children received little or no education. An Educational Ordinance decreed in 1847 by Governor George Grey provided state grants to church schools but this led to sectarian disputes and resentment from secular schools – schools that were not attached to any church.
In 1852, the Constitution Act created six provinces and made the provincial governments responsible for education. The Education Acts of the various Provincial councils reflected the origins and experiences with education of the immigrants. While there was considerable intermixing of the immigrant population, English migrants predominated in Nelson and Canterbury, Scottish in Otago and Southland, and Irish in Auckland and the West Coast. These different backgrounds continue to influence educational debates to this day and the arguments about the place of religion in schools.
A move toward the secularisation of schools under provincial control can be discerned well before the 1877 Education Act created a nation wide system of education. To make schools more acceptable to all denominations, religious instruction was increasingly restricted to Bible reading without comment and some provinces forbade all religious instruction. For example, section 28 of the 1870 Marlborough (Province) Education Act read: “In all schools established under this Act the teaching shall be of a purely secular character”.
There were significant variations between the provinces. The Wellington (Province) Education act of 1855 promoted secular education with no state aid to church schools. The Nelson (Province) Education Act of 1856 established public schools under public control with secular education but allowed the teaching of un-denominational religion and after 1858 also funded church schools. The 1856 Otago (Province) Education Act established an Education Board and financed public schools but prescribed religious instruction and thus created a virtual Presbyterian school system. The Auckland (Province) Education Act of 1857 funded individual church schools. In Canterbury, the 1862 Tancred commission criticised the denominational system of education and recommended that the Otago public education system be adopted and in 1864 the Canterbury Provincial Council created a dual system with public schools and aid to church schools but eventually cut off provincial funds to church schools.
By the early 1870s, many had concluded that using state funds to support denominational educational systems was inefficient and wasteful of public funds, and often caused bitter sectarian arguments. They considered that a nation wide public education system would provide an even and equitable spread of education and looked at the best of the various provincial Acts and also at the 1870 English and 1872 Scottish Education Acts for the best solution.
The provinces were abolished in 1876 making it necessary to establish a national education policy. The New Zealand 1877 Education Bill was introduced to parliament by Bowen, a staunch Anglican from Canterbury, who pointed out that whenever an attempt had been made to divide education money among the religious bodies the funds had been fritted away with small inefficient schools being maintained while larger efficient schools remained short of funds.
The New Zealand House of Representatives passed the Education Act in November 1877, establishing the first general education system for all New Zealand. Considered a great achievement by many, it made education free, compulsory, and secular. Farsighted, the education system established in 1877 met the requirements of Article 18 (Religion) and Article 26 (Education) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was promulgated some seventy years later.
When passed, the Act was not binding on Māori. John Ballance, known for his secular views, was appointed the first Minister of Education. Section 84(2) of the 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.
There was significant debate before the 1877 Act was passed. Three principal divisions were evident in the debate. First, the Protestant groups generally supported the creation of a state education system with no state support for private schools. They also wanted to see religious instruction in schools but could not agree on the form that the religious instruction should take, each denomination preferring their own. Secondly, the Catholics were united in wanting state support for denominational or Catholic schools but were opposed to any religious instruction in state schools that they saw as Protestant. Thirdly, the secularists, a definite minority, who wanted a state school system with no religious instruction and no state aid for denominational schools.Together, Catholics and secularists prevented religious instruction in schools and Protestants and secularists prevented state aid to private or denominational schools. There is no doubt that the word “secular” was intended in the customary sense of excluding religious observances and instruction. The suggestion that secular meant the inclusion of non-sectarian religious instruction has been proposed by those seeking to allow religious instruction in schools but discounted. An early draft, discovered by Will Dennis, was printed in full in the New Zealand Times in July 1877. This draft clearly distinguishes the two when it allows that the school shall be opened “with the reading of the Lord’s Prayer and with a portion of the Holy Scriptures” but then states “With this exception, the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character”. The final Act did not allow for the school to be opened with payer and the reading of scriptures but maintained the requirement that “the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character”.
Unfortunately, the Act did not satisfy everybody, and beginning almost immediately afterward there has been steady pressure to have its secular clauses repealed, or to find ways around them. Concerted efforts to introduce religion to State schools started with the Bible in Schools Association formed in Dunedin in 1880. This Association spread to many parts of New Zealand. Roman Catholics, who did not want Protestant instruction in State schools, did not support this but instead argued for State support for denominational schools.
A loophole in the law was soon spotted where a school could be closed for a time while religious instruction was given. An experiment soon occurred in Canterbury where the schools were closed and children split along denominational lines to receive religious instruction. This system did not prove popular and soon lapsed but in 1897 a Presbyterian minister in Nelson devised a system that has persisted. Schools were officially closed for half-an- hour a week to allow interdenominational religious instruction. Known as the “Nelson System”, it eventually spread to schools throughout the country.
The Bible in Schools movement saw the Nelson System as a second best alterative and continued to advocate for Religious Instruction to be part of the regular school syllabus. The movement continued to gather momentum and an inter-church conference held in 1903 led to the creation of the Bible in Schools League to promote a plan to hold a national referendum on the issue.
This led to a State Schools Defence League being formed in Wellington soon afterward, supported by those who believed that schools should be secular. The Defence League included Jews, agnostics, atheists, and some Christians among its members.
Stepping up their campaign, the Bible in Schools League imported an Australian in 1912 who had run a similar successful campaign in Queensland. He did not win the support of some Congregationalist and Baptist Ministers who were involved in the establishment of the New Zealand National Schools Defence League in Wellington in 1913, supported by professor Hugh MacKenzie of Victoria University College and other university teachers. The Christchurch Rationalist leader, W. W. Collins, published a pamphlet in 1914 on The Bible in Schools Question that argued for a secular system because in every Christian country, religious views are in a state of transition. In June 1914, a Bible in Schools Referendum Bill was introduced into parliament, but failed to get the support of the Parliamentary Educational Committee who had heard arguments for and against the Bill. The campaign lapsed with the outbreak of war but it had been established that there was significant public support for the exclusion of religion from schools.
Toward the end of 1937, the Labour government was preparing a comprehensive Education Bill. Meeting a delegation, the Minister of Education, Peter Fraser, assured the delegation leader, Unitarian Minister Rev. William Jellie, that he himself favoured secular State schools. Nevertheless, an attempt was made in 1938 to amend Clause 39 of the Education Act to allow religious instruction in schools, but this proposal was dropped after objections were received. Fraser, however, authorised new subsidies on school equipment breaking the principal of no state support for denominational schools.
Another conference on Education was held in 1944 and again there were arguments presented for and against the retention of the secular system. Religious groups continued to lobby for access to public schools, gaining momentum after World War II. In 1949, the Bible in Schools League amalgamated with the New Zealand Council for Religious Education to form the Council for Christian Education.
The Roman Catholic Church continued to argue for State aid. The Holy Name Society, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, presented a strongly worded petition to parliament in 1956. They argued that as they could not in conscience send their children to secular State schools, they should be granted government assistance for their own schools. In response, secularists argued that this would be asking Protestants to pay for Roman Catholic teaching while Roman Catholics did not have to pay for the teaching of any religion in the secular State schools. The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) reiterated its opposition to State aid for private schools. The government eventually rejected the petition.
In 1960, the government formed a Commission on Education to investigate all aspects of education, including religious education in State schools, and State aid to private schools. The Commission reported in 1962, and the recommendations were enacted in December that year. These allowed subsidised transport for pupils attending private schools (most private schools are religious), State provided manual training classes for pupils of private schools, and State recognition of the Nelson system to be incorporated into the 1964 Education Act, but direct aid to private schools was not recommended or provided. The secular clause from the 1877 Act was however retained in the 1964 Act and remains in force to this day.
Not satisfied, Catholic and Protestant church groups combined to form an inter-denominational Committee for Independent Schools to lobby the Prime Minister and government. In response, between 1963 and 1968, the government gave minor grants to private schools, and in the 1969 election campaign, both major parties indicated that they were considering further assistance.
Starting in 1971, the government paid 20% of teachers’ salaries in private schools and indicated that this would increase to 35% in seven years. The principle that the government should not subsidise schools that might indoctrinate children in sectarian beliefs was now being eroded. After the Labour Party won the 1972 election, it quickly moved to increase teacher salary subsidies to 32½%. A State Aid Conference to investigate State aid to private schools was convened with twelve delegates from private schools, twelve from the State school system, and two MPs from each of the major parties. The deliberations of this committee, described as secret, were not public and remain unknown, despite repeated attempts by Jack Mulheron to discover them, but recommendations received in 1974 led to the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act of 1975. This Act was passed late at night and just as Labour’s term of office ended.
Many educationalists and secularists were concerned at the nature of the 1975 Act. It allowed the government to “integrate” private schools into the State system and to meet all school costs including teachers’ salaries, but not the capital costs of establishment. Integrated schools were required to meet certain standards, including the appointment of school boards, and the appointment of teachers, but were allowed to charge “attendance dues” with the Minister’s approval, and to retain their special character including religious education, or as others saw it, indoctrination.
Concerned individuals saw this as allowing State money to be used for the indoctrination of children in various sectarian faiths that may in time lead to divisions between various sections of society. They were also concerned that either the total State education allocation would need to be substantially increased to meet the extra costs of the “integrated” schools, or if it was not, that the amount per pupil available to State schools would drop – despite State schools’ being the government’s primary responsibility. State schools would be disadvantaged if the integrated schools were to charge fees and become better funded than the State schools that are not allowed to charge. Their fears were soon realised when the government began diverting funds into the integration process, reaching $20 million for the year ending 1980, with most of the money being spent on the integration of Roman Catholic schools.
Also of particular concern was Section 83(8), added to the 1975 Integration Act at the last minute as an amendment without debate, to modify Section 78A of the Education Act. This allowed the Minister to permit religious education in State schools, in addition to the half hour per week allowed under the Nelson System, provided a majority of parents agreed and the Minister was satisfied that the additional religious instruction would not be detrimental to the teaching of the curriculum. Irrelevant to the purposes of the Integration Act, this was later justified with the spurious excuse that it “prevented State schools from being disadvantaged”!
Before leaving office, the Labour government set up a Committee on Health and Social Education chaired by J. Garfield Johnson. Reporting in August 1977, the committee’s recommendations included one recommending, “the fostering of a non-sectarian spiritual dimension in New Zealand State Education be accepted”. Concerned critics saw this as a disguised advocation of religious instruction in schools.
At the same time, the Churches Education Commission (CEC), that had succeeded the Council for Christian Education, was now not only training and providing religious teachers for the Nelson System, but was openly putting clergymen into schools to assist in the planning and execution of the school curriculum, especially social studies. In a circular issued by the CEC, they argued that they were ensuring that “religious teaching would not be in a separate compartment” and that “some way would be found in which a Christian point of view would be built into the unit being taught”. Church representatives were now arguing in public that the secular clauses were inserted in to the 1887 Act because of rivalry between the churches but, as they now agreed that there should be religious education in schools, the clauses should be abolished.
In response to these activities, a group of concerned teachers and citizens formed the Committee for the Defence of Secular Education (CDSE) in March 1978. They were particularly concerned that the schools were now being used by the CEC to push their sectarian doctrine, and that the religious programmes of the CEC were being used during official school hours under the heading “Moral and Religious Education”. The first CDSE chairman was a school principal and Presbyterian, Bob Whyte, and the secretary and prime mover, Jack Mulheron. They emphasised that they were not anti- religious, but wanted to defend secular education and freedom of conscience for all, and they sought to attract both religious and non-religious members. Their purpose, “To support a public system of education of the best possible quality which is free, open to all, secular, and community controlled: to oppose the use of public money to foster religious or social privilege”.
Jack MulheronThe CDSE attracted a diverse range of members. By September of 1978, individual membership reached 200, and in subsequent years, it increased to over 600. Its members included the retired Director-general of Education, Clarence Beeby, considered the designer of the modern education system. As secretary, Jack was the principal researcher, writer, and publisher of regular circulars, named Segments that were sent to all State primary schools, teachers organisations, and individual members. Jack also wrote letters to the press, Ministers, and other authorities.
An early activity of the CDSE was to criticise the Johnson report. They warned the Minister of Education, L. W. Gandar, that the recommendation of the Johnson report could be used to “justify the introduction of thinly disguised religious instruction programmes into State schools” and urged him to consider how the CEC was already working in schools. In response, the Minister promised to take no action for a year, and called for public submissions. So many submissions were received, including one from Wellington Humanists, that an independent agency, Link Associates Ltd., were employed in June 1979 to report on them. The “Link Report” was not made available to the public but the CDSE obtained a copy and found that Link Associates had reported an overwhelming rejection of the fostering of a non-sectarian spiritual dimension and a strong community belief that the secular nature of State education must be maintained, and that this principal should extend to all affairs of state. This early success encouraged the CDSE.
During 1978, the Education Department published a booklet More Than Talk by educational professors Ivan Snook and Colin McGeorge that argued that it was possible to deliver a sound system of moral education in schools without recourse to religion, and that it would be acceptable to both believers and non-believers.
With letters to Ministers of the Crown, educational authorities, and the news media, and with press releases, the CDSE soon became well known to the public. Jack, as spokesperson, appeared on TV and became recognised as a national figure. The CDSE now worked to identify organisations that were attempting to introduce religious doctrine into State schools. One such organisation was the Council of Organisations for Moral Education (COME) that sought to inculcate its fundamentalist Christian values in children. COME was supported by the fervently religious Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), an anti-abortion organisation.
With the integration of private schools now well underway, the CDSE monitored and publicised the large sums of money being spent on “exclusive and privileged” private schools to encourage expansion while the State system declined. In one example, in 1981 a favourable government loan of two million dollars was made to a well-established integrated private school with much better terms than had previously been available to private schools.
In 1980, and perhaps in response to the public agitation by the CDSE against the cost of integration, the Minister of Education Merv Wellington, with the support of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, decided to “fast track” the integration process. That year, $40 million dollars was made available to Roman Catholic schools to pay full state salaries for all lay teachers, including those in schools that had merely promised to integrate. Low interest loans were even made available from the housing corporation for the development of Roman Catholic schools! These actions added to the impression that the government was favouring “exclusive” religious schools and was neglecting State schools that remained short of classrooms and funds for maintenance.
In 1981, the CDSE organised a seminar in Wellington on “Church, State, and New Zealand Education”. The speakers, Ivan Snook and Colin McGeorge, presented three papers that were subsequently published in booklet form and well publicised in education circles. Snook and McGeorge reviewed the Integration Act, criticising many aspects. Expressing concern at the new Section 78A, they considered that it should be repealed forthwith. By November of 1981, the Minister had approved extended hours of religious instruction in just three schools while a recent New Zealand Herald National Research Bureau poll found that “the majority of New Zealanders … do not believe that there should be formal religious education in our schools”.
During 1982, the CDSE became concerned that the drive toward privatisation of public services could threaten the public education system. In 1983, they changed their name to the Society for the Protection of Public Education (SPPE) but continued their campaign to ensure that integration did not disadvantage or compromise the public education system.
Elected in 1984, the incoming Labour government held another “secret” conference, similar in constitution to the first, to review the Integration Act. The press, the CDSE, and CEC were excluded. Following this, the Minister of Education, Russell Marshall, announced his government’s commitment to “Integration” and the establishment of a working party to examine the issues, with representatives from the groups involved.
With the sale of State assets and privatisation well established, there was now some pressure for reforms in the education system, including devolution of control, deregulation, and exposure to market forces. The possibility that this might make privatisation of schools easier rang alarm bells with the SPPE.
In 1988, the government published the report of the Task force to Review Educational Administration (the Picot Report). The report recommended a major reduction in central control with devolution to local school boards of trustees, but failed to mention a need to preserve secularity. With Prime Minister David Lange, a Methodist, now taking the Education portfolio, the Labour government published Tomorrow’s Schools, outlining their proposal to implement the Picot report but again failed to mention the need to retain the secular nature of State schools. The subsequent 1989 Education Act did not repeal sections 77, 78, and 78A of the 1964 Act that ensured the secular nature of instruction in primary schools, but the abolition of regular school inspections made it easier for the illegal introduction of religious education. This could happen if a board of trustees did not understand the law or chose to defy it, as had previously happened with the Taranaki Education board in 1957. Writing to the Prime Minister, as secretary of the SPPE, Jack Mulheron pointed out that the Picot report had emphasised the need to respect diversity and promote non-racist and non-sexist education but had failed to mention the need to respect differences in religious belief.
During the 1980s, the Churches Education Commission (CEC) continued its efforts to find new ways to get religion into schools. They proposed that chaplains be appointed to schools and in 1989, the first training course for State school chaplains was held in Dunedin. This ran parallel to a similar scheme to appoint chaplains to various places of work, where negotiations were held with local authorities, government departments, private companies, and trade unions. Various chaplains were appointed, including one to the Treasury in 1992. Under the school chaplaincy scheme, a chaplain approved by the CEC is introduced to school trustees and staff and then made available to offer pastoral, rather than evangelical, services and instruction at the request of the school. The CEC further developed their training and accreditation scheme for voluntary religious teachers in schools and gained recognition for this from the Ministry of Education and School Trusties Association. By 1992, some 1400 out of approximately 2000 schools had accepted religious instruction provided by the CEC.
For some 13 years, Jack Mulheron, with the help of a small number of supporters, kept up his struggle to maintain the spirit of the 1877 Education Act, that made public primary school education free, compulsory, and secular. Now in 1991, it was proving too much for him. At 67, Jack needed to retire. While he had had some successes, he had not won the long battle against the much better resourced religious organisations. In his last Segment, Jack warned that some State schools boards, encouraged by the churches, were now asking job applicants about their religious beliefs. “This is appalling”, he said. Without Jack, the SPPE ceased its activities.
Religious pressures to get religion into schools have not ceased. In recent years, we have seen religious groups donate books to school libraries, some are Bible stories, but others purporting to be science books are in reality pushing Creationism or Intelligent Design. Some teachers have also taught Creationism and Intelligent Design to students as though it were legitimate science. Now, after 135 year, the battle has not been won. The struggle to keep a free, compulsory, and secular education system continues.
This article is an extended version of an article originally published in New Zealand Humanist No. 157, August 2007.
Primary Sources include:
Jim Dakin, The Secular Trend in New Zealand, 2000, published in New Zealand Humanist in 8 parts from issue 146 June 2000 to issue 153 March 2004.
Colin McGeorge and Ivan Snook, Church State, and New Zealand Education,Price Milburn 1981.
Max Wallace editor, Realising Secularism, Australia New Zealand Secular Association 2010, Iain Middleton Undermining New Zealand’s State Education System.
Iain Middleton is Editor of New Zealand Humanist.
Version 2.0.01: This version of the article was created on Tuesday 31 July 2012 to include with the August 2012 Humanist Newsletter. It incorporates additional material regarding the origins of and influences on the 1877 Education Act, some clarification of secular clause in the 1964 Education Act, the legalisation of the Nelson System, and expanded final paragraph, etc. Version 2.0.02: Minor revision on 120801