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– March 2020

Kia Ora: 2020 has dawned with portents of troubles. We have seen the Australian bushfires on TV with the loss of homes and the terrible destruction of wildlife and wildlife habitats; the Novel Coronavirus is spreading from Wuhan, China; torrential rain has caused a landslide on the Routeburn Track – trapping people; Southland is experiencing massive flooding, while much of the upper South Island and North Island are entering drought conditions.

We saw the reddish haze over the moon, and we knew it was the smoke from the Australian bushfires. What would ancient men and women, without the advantages of global communication, have thought? Ancient people invented and used gods to explain natural phenomena that we understand but that they could not easily understand. However, even in this year of 2020, when rational thought discounts a god, gods, or the supernatural as the source behind all these events – gods that must be appeased to avoid a repetition or worse events – we still see irrational and violent behaviour, as communities of believers persecute non-believers. In Pakistan, a young man who promoted secularism and a tolerant society has recently been sentenced to death for blasphemy, for comments posted on social media. Non-believers often try to find safety in other countries, but Immigration Law is complex and non-believers often experience discrimination from Immigration officials. The plight of many non-believers is desperate economically, socially, and personally.

While we enjoyed our summer holiday period, we have heard accounts of people seeking safety, having no money for food or a safe place to sleep. Humanist International (HI) works hard to assist with their Humanist at Risk programme, receiving around three requests for help every week. HI provides support with letters, funds and legal support. In many cases HI will raise cases with governments and agencies around the world. You are able to support this work through a donation at:

Monday 2 March@ 6.30pm until 9.00pm

Atuakore: Maori Atheists and Freethinkers

Te Henare

In the 2013 census 46% of Māori said they had no religion. However, Eru Hiko-Tahuri, who blogs and writes under the name The Heretical Hori states that ‘there are very few Māori who would admit to being atheist”. Founder of Māori Atheists and Freethinkers Te Henare, will talk about being atheist, letting go of superstition, and navigating the Māori world where almost everything is permeated with notions of spirituality and religion. Te Henare will provide his unique insight into the tension between culture and religion in a post-colonial New Zealand. Also, Te Henare will discuss the pressures he experiences in daily life as a Maori Atheist.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Wellington Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

·     Darwin Day Social Meet-Up Wednesday 12 February 6.30pm: downstairs at the Thistle Inn. To begin our year of humanism join us at a social meet-up and demonstrate your knowledge of Darwin with a Darwinian Quiz.

·     Humanist Marriage celebrant: Ryan McLane ( is our Marriage Celebrant in the Wellington area. If a humanist marriage celebration is your preference for 2020 then contact Ryan who will help you plan your own distinctive ceremony.

From the Humanists Victoria Newsletter February 2020, written by Rosslyn Ives

·    Fire – Darwin – Evolution: The current bushfires caused widespread destruction to lives, property, agricultural production and wildlife still to be tallied. Our thoughts and conversations have been occupied by the extent and ferocity of those fires. Little wonder that bushfire news has dominated the media, not only in Australia but across the world. As we celebrate International Darwin Day on 12 February it is timely to consider the role of fire in the evolution of plants and animals. Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is credited with giving science its first credible account of life evolving by natural selection. Although most people today accept evolution as a scientific fact, in the 19th century it was widely believed that species were ‘fixed’, having all been put on Earth by God in the divine act of creation. Darwin was well aware that to question the fixity of species was socially beyond the pale. This troubled him greatly because his research clearly showed that species do change. He had countless observations that showed that competition for resources was an ever-present feature of life. Those with features that aided survival would usually thrive, and those selected features would spread through the species. His conclusion: species change to fit their environment, i.e. life evolves. Fire is a selection factor that causes species to change and adapt. However, in Darwin’s four weeks in Australia it is unlikely that he would have noticed the role fire played in survival strategies, e.g. bark that enables trees to regenerate after fire, seed germination triggered by fire. If Darwin was alive today, he could have read books such as BURNING PLANET: The Story of Fire Through Time and consult its author, emeritus Professor of Geology Andrew Scott. The book outlines how fire has been an agent of species change for over 400 million years for terrestrial plants and animals.

·    Advocacy 4 Alleged Witches: Leo Igwe founder of the Nigerian Humanist Society and a speaker at the 2018 Auckland Humanist conference has set up this new organisation vowing to ensure a witch-hunt free Africa by 2020. The following link indicates the huge task that is before Leo.


·    Blasphemy Law in Ireland repealed: The change in law comes after the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in referendum in October 2018 to amend its constitution to remove a clause which punished so called “blasphemy”. It was agreed that the following clause would be removed from the Irish constitution: “blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”. Atheist Ireland, a member of commented: “Ireland has become the eighth country to repeal its blasphemy laws since 2015, however 69 countries Humanists International, has spent more than a decade lobbying for repeal of the blasphemy law with the Irish Government and Department of Justice. Atheist Ireland report that the Irish President has recently signed the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019. Humanists International Chief Executive, Gary McLelland, around the world still uphold such laws, including a dozen of them in Europe. Humanists International has always maintained that blasphemy laws are inherently wrong, and that they unduly target humanists and atheists. We will continue our important work to end blasphemy laws worldwide.”

·    Submission to the Health Select Committee currently considering the Crimes (Definition of Female Genetical Mutilation FGM) Amendment Bill.

·    Humanist NZ has long had an interest in the problematic question: Is FGM occurring in our country? Numbers would be small but even one young girl who is subjected to this is too many. This bill amends the Crimes Act 1961 to update the definition of FGM to ensure that all types of FGM are illegal in NZ. We are very happy to support the four women MPs across the political parties who have introduced this bill -Jenny Marcroft (NZ First), Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Labour), Golriz Ghahraman (Green Party) and Jo Hayes (National). Inquiries in past years have not succeeded in determining the number of cases but recently we have made midwifery and obstetric contacts which we hope will help with our queries. Humanist NZ would like to see mandatory reporting of cases and we have included this suggestion in our submission. Committee members will speak to our submission at the Parliamentary hearing on Monday 2 March.

The Humanists New Zealand submission reads as follows:

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.) is a secular organisation that supports Human Rights.

The Society wishes to express its strong support for the Bill and believes it to be an important addition to New Zealand’s legislation. We are pleased to see the definition of FMG extended to include all four categories as defined by the World Health Organisation, and in particular, the new inclusion of such damaging practices of pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, or cauterising. We are strongly of the view that no exceptions should be permitted on the grounds that relative to the current definition within the Crimes Act 1961, these latter practices might be defended as minor or symbolic.

Despite our strong support for the Bill’s current content, we nevertheless propose an extension. At present, no one knows, or can know, the extent of the practice of FGM in New Zealand despite its illegality. No organisation in the Health sector, national or local, gathers statistics on its incidence as there is no legislated obligation placed upon the Health sector to gather the relevant statistics. The country can therefore be described as keeping itself officially in ignorance of the incidence of FGM. It lacks the information upon which a more determined program to reduce or eliminate it could be based, if found to be necessary. Because the Society regards this state of affairs as unsatisfactory, we propose that the Bill be extended to rectify it, using practices related to notifiable diseases and conditions as a guide.

At present an obligation is imposed upon all medical practitioners to provide details of all cases of notifiable diseases to local Medical Officers of Health. This obligation is defined in Part 3 Clause 74 of the Health Act 1956. It appears below.

Quotation from the Health Act 1956.

Part 3

74 Health practitioners to give notice of cases of notifiable disease

(1) Every health practitioner who has reason to believe that any person professionally attended by him is suffering from a notifiable disease or from any sickness of which the symptoms create a reasonable suspicion that it is a notifiable disease shall—

(a) in the case of a notifiable infectious disease, forthwith inform the occupier of the premises and every person nursing or in immediate attendance on the patient of the infectious nature of the disease and the precautions to be taken, and forthwith give notices in the prescribed form to the medical officer of health, and, if the disease is specified in section A of Part 1 of Schedule 1, to the local authority of the district:

(b) in the case of a notifiable disease other than a notifiable infectious disease, forthwith give notice in the prescribed form to the medical officer of health.

A list of non-infectious disease exists as Schedule 2 of the Act, Section A being concerned with occupational conditions and Section B listing a few “other conditions”.

It is proposed that an obligation, analogous to those pertaining to notifiable diseases, be imposed upon all medical practitioners to provide relevant details to their local Medical Officers of Health whenever in their daily practice, they observe a case where FGM has been performed on patients who were born in New Zealand on or later than 1st January 1996 when the FGM relevant parts of the Crimes Act 1961 came into force.

The Society proposes therefore that The Crimes (Definition of Female Genetical Mutilation) Amendment Bill be amended to include an extra clause as below:

5 Notifiable Conditions

(1) FGM shall be added to the list of notifiable conditions in Schedule 2 Section B of the Health Act 1956, all four types of FGM being treated as separate conditions.

(2) For women born in New Zealand on or later than 1st January 1996 only, cases of FGM of all types must be reported by all health practitioners according to Clause 74 (1) (b) of Part 3 of the same Act for the purpose of gathering statistics on the incidence of FGM among such girls and women.

All statistics gathered for the Ministry or the Minister of Health will be available to the public upon request.

Education and Training Bill: This Bill repeals the Education Act 1964 (the 1964 Act), the Education Act 1989 (the 1989 Act), and the Industry Training and Apprenticeships Act 1992, and replaces these Acts with the new Education and Training Act. The previous sections of most concern to us were sections 77 to 81 of the 1964 Act. These sections will be repealed and replaced by clauses 53 to 58 and clause 93 of the new Act. In the new Act, ‘sections’ are called ‘clauses’.

Whereas the 1964 Act said in section 77, “the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character” the new Bill says in clause 93: Teaching in State primary and intermediate schools must be secular

(1) Teaching in every State primary and intermediate school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.

(2) However, religious instruction and observances at State schools may be held in accordance with subpart 1 of this Part.

Compare: 1964 No 135 s 77

In other words, if you are carrying out religious instruction (teaching) or observances (also sometimes known as teaching) then the teaching does not need to be secular.

The old 1964 Act section 78, often known as the “Nelson Clause”, has been retained in the new Act as Clause 54. This clause allows a school board to close their school for up to 60 minutes a week for religious education.

The 1964 Act section 79 allowed for an ‘opt-out’ provision for parents who did not wish their children to attend religious education. In the new bill, clause 56 changes this to ‘opt-in’ which is more satisfactory for non-religious parents. However, clause 57 of the new bill makes attending religious observance ‘opt-out. We consider that this should also be ‘opt-in’ as it is for attending religious education.

We are also concerned that Clause 48 of the new bill allows parents to withdraw children under 16 from any class on unspecified or claimed religious grounds. This means that parents could withdraw their children from core science education classes, from valuable sex and relationship education classes, or any other class they like on dubious religious grounds without even the need to show that the classes conflict with their religious beliefs.

It is gratifying to see that the ‘opt-out’ provision is now ‘opt-in’ for religious instruction.

For many years, members of Humanist NZ, NZARH, and more recently the Secular Education Network and have intensified the campaign to ensure that religious education is education about religion and not religious indoctrination. Jack Mulheron, a humanist, started the Committee for the Defence of Secular Education in 1978. Jack’s work is documented in an article in New Zealand Humanist, August 2006, and was reprinted in the Humanist Newsletter in August 2012. In 2013, Iain Middleton, Peter Harrison and Sean Faircloth met with Labour Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins to discuss the religious education in schools’ issue. This ‘religious education’ issue has seen more than fifty years of activism. Now, in 2020, we are preparing a submission to support ‘opt-in’ for religious education, express concern that religious observance has now been introduced into schools as ‘opt-out’, and concern that students may be removed from any classes where their parents claim to have a religious objection.