Kia Ora

The featured cartoon is poignant. People the world over have grieved for the devastating fire damage to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Donations to rebuild Notre Dame have surpassed 500 million dollars. An orangutan sadly holds a placard ‘Help rebuild my cathedral’. It has recently been reported that due to deforestation the orangutan may be extinct in the wild within a decade. Although it is agreed that the history and timelessness of Notre Dame demand its restoration, this is an opportunity to reflect on priorities. What could humanity achieve if the same determination was applied to animal and environmental issues? Could we apply ourselves to actively moving past the boundaries of tribalism which seem to govern so much of human interaction the world over?

Humanist Catch-Up Monday May 6 @ 6.30pm until 9.00pm

The need for non-religious pastoral and spiritual care Colin Woodhouse

Colin Woodhouse describes himself as a man with a mission to establish non-religious pastoral care services in New Zealand. Colin has been a nurse for 19 years mostly working in neurology and neurosurgery. Colin says “:I have a long standing interest in palliative care, and I’m currently doing post graduate study in that field. I want to do a Master’s thesis on the need for non-religious pastoral care in hospitals. Prior to becoming a nurse I was a geologist so I am very much a big bang and evolution person – not a creationist. I am originally from the UK and moved to New Zealand in 2007 settling in Christchurch. Earthquakes aside it is a tremendous place for us to live as a family. The three of us are proud possessors of Kiwi passports.”

An increasing proportion, and possibly the majority, of Kiwis are not followers of an organised religion. This means that more people who are admitted to hospitals are non-religious. The chaplaincy and pastoral support services in District Health Boards are run by the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy – a panel of nine Christian churches. People in hospitals be they patients, their relatives or employees are offered the opportunity to speak with a Christian support worker or someone from the person’s preferred religious faith. Non-religious patients have the choice of talking with a religious person or no one at all about their spiritual feelings and goals. Spirituality is part of religion but religion is not necessarily part of spirituality. Although religious chaplains may be able to offer non-religious spiritual and pastoral support, the people they offer it to may not want to talk with a religious person. The chaplaincy, pastoral and spiritual support services offered needs to be revised to meet the needs of clients.

In recent decades humanist organisations have started to work and campaign for the right to non-religious pastoral support. The Netherlands in the 1950’s established “Humanist Spiritual Care” in the Dutch Army provide support for non-religious soldiers. The Humanist Association of Germany already provides humanist counselling in many parts of their country. There are similar developments in the USA, Italy, and Belgium. In 2018 two major steps forward were taken when Norway appointed Ida Helene Henriksen as the first Humanist chaplain in the Norwegian Armed Forces, and in the UK Lindsay van Dijk has become the first humanist Head Chaplain of the National Health Service. Gary McLelland, Humanist International Chief Executive says: “I think these successes show that there is a real and common demand from across secularizing western countries. It shows a real synergy of efforts within the humanist  movement to achieve in public life a better reflection of the broadly humanist values that now shape so many of our lives.”

Humanist NZ invites persons interested in pursuing a volunteer commitment as pastoral care counsellors for the non-religious in hospitals and prisons to contact us [email protected] We are in the initial stages for this programme but it is intended to provide training for this role.

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

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

A Sincere Thank you: Viola Namyalo has posted her sincere and grateful thanks for the support from Humanist NZ for funds transferred to purchase the fabric required to make reusable Sanitary Pads for Menstruation, for use by young women in Viola’s community in Uganda.  :-“ Very grateful for the support from our colleagues in New Zealand, we continue doing our Reproductive Health related work supporting young people help themselves as they learn all about menstrual hygiene. Here in the pictorial is us empowering pupils at Bat Valley Primary School. Thank you Team HALEA and Humanist NZ and the team that continues to support this cause, working with us.

Iain Middelton

Reflections after Christchurch

Is there now a new threat to the freedom of religion and belief and the right to freedom of expression in New Zealand? Is it possible that well-meaning attempts to improve the law after the events of Friday 15 March may result in the loss of the long-established right to peaceably and freely discuss matters of importance, perhaps even to prevent all discussion of religion and belief?

New Zealanders were shocked to hear of the attack during Friday prayers at the Al Noor Mosque in Riccarton and fifteen minutes later at the Linwood Islamic Centre. We were shocked that an attack of this nature had occurred in peaceful New Zealand.

Slowly the facts emerged. Just 21 minutes after the first emergency call Police arrested a 28-year-old Australian. Multiple shooters were suspected, but it eventually became clear that this was a lone wolf attack. An attack by a single person acting alone, but perhaps inspired and encouraged by others through the internet. It appears the suspect chose New Zealand as a place to live because of the relatively lax gun laws that enabled him to own and learn to use the type of weapons he planned to use. Despite an online presence with links to alt-right groups, he easily obtained a gun licence with little vetting and purchased easily modifiable guns. This probably would not have been possible in Australia. Initially planning an attack in another country, possibly Australia, he realised that it would be easier for him to carry out an attack in New Zealand and chose a Dunedin mosque, later switching his attention to Christchurch as he might be able to attack two or even three targets.

Following the attack, University of Auckland Professor Douglas Pratt, an international expert on religious terrorism and the author of “Religion and Extremism: Rejecting Diversity”, considered the evidence. In an article titled “Warning signs of terror attack in New Zealand have been apparent, experts say”, (Stuff, March 15), and later in other interviews, Pratt says: the language, phrases and world-view of the suspect’s manifesto pointed to this being a form of Christian terrorism. “This is not simply political; it is a deeply-engrained religious extremism. These people act on the premise that Muslims are the people to be feared, because they are seen to be extreme, and this would be considered a pre-emptive strike.” Presenting himself as an ethno-nationalist (anti-migration believing people should stay in their own countries, rather than racist or anti-Islam) and an ecofascist, others saw him as a white supremacist. For the ancient Romans, the date chosen, the ides of March, is a deadline for settling debts.

The response of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern after the event has been admirable as she sought to unite the nation, to bring people together in condemnation of terrorism. “These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world”. “You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you”, she said of the perpetrator. She expressed regret that people had died in the shooting – people who were potentially immigrants living in New Zealand – targeted by a hateful tirade. “New Zealand was a place that many came to for its safety – a place where they were free to practice their culture and religion,” she said. New Zealand represents “diversity, kindness, and compassion”. “We are one.” “Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the man who took them”. Illustrating the fate of Herostratus, who set fire to the temple of Artemis in Ephesus in 356 BCE, and those who might seek “Herostratic fame”, known as Damnatio memoriae by the Romans, she said, “He may seek notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.” Herostratus confessed to committing arson to immortalize his name. To dissuade others, he was executed, and condemned to eternal oblivion by forbidding any mention of his name under penalty of death.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (HSNZ) released a press statement condemning the attacks and expressing sympathy for the victims and their families. The statement emphasised our common humanity, condemned hate crimes and violence, and stated that freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, which includes the right to express one’s freedom of religion or belief, are fundamental human rights and that everyone should have the right to meet to express their religion or belief with safety and security. The statement also confirmed that Humanists welcome legitimate immigrants to New Zealand and support the rights of all immigrants to security and freedom from racism and hate, adding that as a nation we gain strength through diversity.

Humanists have long supported open dialogue and discussion and condemned violence as a solution. The Society, from its inception, has supported the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and United Nations documents such as the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which binds New Zealand as a signatory country. The ICCPR insists on freedom of expression but specifically excludes defamation, hate speech, and incitement to violence or war from freedom of expression. Humanists also welcome legitimate migrants including those seeking asylum from unjust persecution or escaping from war rather than unlimited immigration.

From another perspective, Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, tweeted that this event showed that “terrorism has no religion”. We might reasonably assume that this means that terrorism is associated with no particular religion, but unfortunately within hours Facebook posts appeared indicating that some people had taken this to mean that it was atheists in New Zealand who were responsible for killing peaceful Muslims at prayer in Christchurch. Attention in Pakistan quickly turned from the 21 innocent people killed in a bomb attack in Quetta, on the 12th March, to the three Pakistanis killed in Christchurch. I personally believe that in Islamic countries, “no religion” can mean those who have no religion, such as agnostics and atheists, just as “no religion” in the New Zealand census means those without a religious belief. In many Islamic countries, people of no religion, apostates, and supposed blasphemers are treated with contempt, and in thirteen countries the law mandates the death penalty for apostates, blasphemers and atheists.

At Friday prayers held in Christchurch on the 22 March, Imam Gamal Fouda went further when he stated that: “terrorism has no colour, no race, and no religion”. Again, a reasonable person might assume that this means no particular religion, but my concern is that to many of Islamic faith it means those who have no religious belief. In the Christchurch Cathedral on Easter Sunday, 21 April, it was stated that “terrorism has no religion, as no religion has terrorism as one of its core values”. Again, the suggestion appears to me to be that it is non-religious people who are responsible for terrorism. I think it looks like an attempt by the religious to absolve themselves of responsibility by pointing the finger at the non-religious, despite studies that indicate the non-religious are the least likely to commit this type of act. As Voltaire put it in 1765, those who believe in absurdities commit atrocities. Government and its agencies need to continue to work for the safety of all people.

Combating terrorism requires all religious and community leaders to unequivocally condemn all terrorism, recognise the rights and suffering of those of other communities as well as their own, and pay less attention to seeing themselves and their communities as the only victims.

National Statement on Religious Diversity

A National Statement on Religious Diversity was first suggested at an Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia in 2004 as a means of improving inter-religious relations and preventing religious strife in New Zealand, such as this event that occurred fifteen years later in Christchurch in March 2019. Professor Paul Morris of Victoria University of Wellington drafted the document, known as the “National Statement of Religious Diversity” launched in August 2006. Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres and a reference group of nine individuals representing various religious interests provided advice. There was no advice from anyone representing non-religious people. The intention of the document was to acknowledge religious diversity in New Zealand, to reduce tensions between the different religious groups, and to provide a framework where they could co-exist. The intention was excellent, but I consider the result, unfortunately, very flawed because of the failure to look at the detailed wording or possible interpretations of the wording. Very minor changes to the wording, however, may have been enough to make it the excellent document that it had the potential to be.

The statement begins well by recognising that: first, New Zealand has no official or established religion but seeks to treat all faith communities and those who profess no religion (belief or ethical belief) equally before the law; and second upholds the right to freedom of religion and belief and the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religious or other belief. The third statement then states that faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security, but significantly fails to extend this right to safety and security to others, such as those with ethical belief or no religion. This failure allows religious leaders to portray religious groups as the victims of terrorism rather than as the perpetrators.

This problem was pointed out to Paul Morris and Joris de Bres numerous times at various locations throughout New Zealand during the consultative period by members of the non-religious community. At these meetings, both Morris and de Bres appeared to me to have little appreciation of the concept of universal human rights and a poor understanding of the principals of the New Zealand Bill of Rights and the Human Rights Act 1993, which the statement failed to conform with. While Paul Morris may have come to recognise the problem, Joris de Bres continued to dismiss it saying that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was history and that now “we” just create rights for special cases such as the right of access for people with disabilities. He was unable to explain why religious people had a need for a special right to safety that could not to be extended to others.

Following the consultation period, a revised statement with some improvements was endorsed as a basis for further dialogue by the National Interfaith Forum in Hamilton in February 2007. At this forum, Paul Morris reportedly said that no modifications were made to the third statement because the reference group considered that “they had already made enough concessions to the non-religious.” I feel this should not have been about making concessions but about improving the document so that it is universally applicable and acceptable to all people.

Simply changing the wording of the third statement from “THE RIGHT TO SAFETY. Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security” to “THE RIGHT TO SAFETY. Faith and belief communities and their members have a right to safety and security”, or to “THE RIGHT TO SAFETY. All communities and their members have a right to safety and security” would have, in my opinion, included the non-religious and solved the problem, bringing it into conformity with New Zealand Human Rights law.

Because of the failure to fix this problem, I consider that the National Statement of Religious Diversity remained, and remains, a very divisive and non-inclusive document that in my mind excludes and offends half of the population of New Zealand.

Following the launch of the statement in 2007, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) received a complaint from a non-religious person saying that the HRC had published a document that discriminated against him, presenting a copy of the statement with the HRC name and logo on it. Despite the clear evidence that they had published it, the HRC dismissed the complaint, saying that they had never published it. The commission continues to publish the statement under their name and logo and it has since been endorsed by two prime ministers, Helen Clark and John Key.

It is a matter of particular concern that the National Statement of Religious Diversity is used as a teaching resource in New Zealand schools, including religious and Islamic schools. Many Islamic countries have consistently denied human rights to apostates, supposed blasphemers, agnostics, and non-religious people, and enforce inhumane punishments such as lashings or death sentences on such people. The children of immigrants from these countries are now presented with a document published by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission that tells them that only people of faith communities are entitled to safety, reinforcing the prejudices that they or their parents and teachers may have brought with them from their countries of origin!

Changes to New Zealand law

It is suggested that New Zealand law needs to be reconsidered and if necessary revised following the Christchurch events to ensure that similar events do not happen again. Gun laws needed revision. It was all too easy for a foreign national to move to New Zealand, obtain a gun licence very quickly and then buy guns that he should not have been permitted to own. The immediate tightening of the gun laws to reduce the availability of some classes of gun was warranted.

The question of how people obtain gun licences needs careful consideration. It appears that a non-New Zealander, a person who grew up in a similar but sometimes significantly different cultural environment, was able to obtain a licence and collect multiple weapons very shortly after arrival in New Zealand, without adequate vetting. Simply extending a compulsory residency period to several years may have gone a long way to preventing the event without placing undue restrictions on those who grow up in New Zealand.

Changing other laws requires very careful consideration. Two points stand out.

First, the March perpetrator was very likely radicalised outside of New Zealand and was in contact with people outside New Zealand before the event. Consequently, changes to New Zealand laws may not have prevented the event.

Secondly, we have a significant raft of laws covering many different aspects of the law that might have prevented the event, but which were not used. We need to ask, could existing law have been used before looking at introducing new laws. We need to be certain that we require new laws to cover gaps in the law that are not covered at present.

Hate Speech Laws.

New Zealand has hate speech laws that cover “colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” but do not cover religion or belief or other areas of discrimination that are listed in the Human Rights Act 1993. These other areas of discrimination were deliberately left out of the hate speech laws in 1993. A great deal of care is required if the law is extended to cover religion and belief, first, to ensure that the law covers both religion and belief and not just religion, and secondly, to ensure that freedom of expression is maintained.

A high threshold needs to be set to maintain freedom of expression in accordance with International law and standards. The normal standard accepted internationally for hate speech “is the imminent incitement of hatred or violence”. Discussion of such issues as: population increase, contraceptive usage, migration rates, sexual status, and religious issues are all legitimate areas of discussion and I think must continue to be legitimate areas of discussion in New Zealand.

There is a reasonable person test. In many cases a reasonable person will not be incited to hatred or violence by a simple expression of facts, but one person in a million may be incited. Simply reporting that a terrorist event has occurred may incite a minority to emulate the event or to seek revenge. Should we stop all reporting because of the one person in a million who behaves unreasonably?

There are problems in the existing law. Section 63 (1) (b) of The Human Rights Act 1993 states that “It shall be unlawful for any person to use language … that is hurtful or offensive to that other person”. To me, it seems that causing offence sets far too low a threshold for hate speech law and severely impinges on the right to freedom of expression.

The problem with causing offence is that offence is very subjective. What offends one person may not offend others or most people. For example, a central tenet of one religion may cause offence to those of another religion. To say Jesus is the son of god is central to Christianity, but offensive to many Islamic people who regard Jesus as a lesser prophet than Mohammad. Extending Section 63 of the Human Rights Act 1993 to cover religion and belief without repealing subsection (1) (b) will cause major problems. I am worried that it is likely to make any discussion or all discussion of religion or belief unlawful.

Discrimination against the non-religious in New Zealand law.

In the 2015 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report produced by Humanists International, New Zealand rated as a country with “severe discrimination”, in part because of the severity of our blasphemy law, section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961, which allowed for a prison sentence of up to one year for publishing a blasphemous libel. Section 123 is now repealed, effective from 12 March 2019. However, the existence of the blasphemy law until 2019 is symptomatic of a larger problem and indicative that the exercise known as constancy 2000 was never completed regarding discrimination in the law on the grounds of freedom of religion and belief.

When the Human Rights Act was passed in 1993, the government gave itself until the year 2000 to review all laws and bring them into line with the Human Rights Act 1993, a process known as Consistency 2000. While the Consistency 2000 exercise was supposedly completed in 2000, an examination of New Zealand law finds that there are still 78 Acts that contain the word “religion” and 238 that contain the word “religious”.

Any law that gives special privileges to any person or group based on religion is discriminatory if it does not extend the same privileges to the non-religious. While some of these Acts counted above are good law and non-discriminatory, an estimated 70% of these Acts of parliament are discriminatory, giving special privilege to religion, religious groups, or religious personages, while not extending the same privileges to the non-religious.

Not all these discriminatory laws are historical. The Law Commission, considering Harmful Digital Communications, recommended in 2012 that a digital communication should not denigrate a person by reason of that person’s colour; race; ethnic or national origins; religion; ethical belief; gender; sexual orientation or disability. However, when the Bill was introduced into parliament in 2013 the words “ethical belief” had been omitted without explanation, making the Act a discriminatory one. While it is sometimes argued that religion automatically covers ethical belief, the two key Acts, the “New Zealand Bill of Rights” and the “Human Rights Act 1993” make it clear that “religion” and “belief” treat the two separately.

Because of this body of discriminatory law regarding privileges for religion, privileges not extended to ethical belief, I think it is likely that the non-religious are the most discriminated against group by law in New Zealand. This discrimination existed before 1993, and has continued to exist since the passing of the Human Rights Act 1993.

Humanists have long worked for, and must continue to work for, Human Rights, including the right to freedom of religion and belief, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to equality before the law for all, including those who have no religious belief.

Before the abolition of the blasphemy law, section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961, subsection 3 of this section said that: “It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject”. Subsection 4 allowed that “no one shall be prosecuted for an offence against this section without the leave of the Attorney-General, who before giving leave may make such inquiries as he thinks fit”. Subsections 3 and 4 provided protection against frivolous and vexatious prosecutions under section 123.

We need to work to ensure that it is not an offence in New Zealand to express or to attempt to establish by arguments, satire, comedy, art, cartoons, or by any other means, orally or otherwise, any opinion whatever on any subject relating to religion or belief except such expressions that may lead to the imminent incitement of hatred or violence.