Kia ora: Another month and it is now DAY 518 and the despair at Mubarak Bala’s detention by Kano, Nigerian Islamists, continues for African Humanists, Mubarak Bala’s Nigerian humanist colleagues, and especially for Mubarak’s wife and young son who was only six weeks old when his father was detained. When will this end? Humanists International defends humanists like Mubarak Bala at risk of persecution and violence, campaigns on Humanist issues, lobbies for Humanist values at international institutions, including the United Nations, and works to build the Humanist movement around the world. Have you considered joining as an individual member? Humanist NZ is a member organisation. A statement of the fundamental principles of modern Humanism was agreed by the founders of Humanists International at the first World Humanist Congress in 1952. They called it “The Amsterdam Declaration”. Fifty years later, in 2002, the Declaration was updated and now, seventy years later, Humanists International is again looking at this document for a further update. Our November newsletter will include suggestions sent from Humanist NZ.

Monday 4 October 6.30pm until 9.00pm

If Wellington is still at Level 2 we will follow the Covid Level 2 protocols at Thistle Inn

“Islam for Humanists: An unbeliever’s introduction for other unbelievers”

Alexander Maxwell

Alexander Maxwell is Associate Professor of History at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. He studied at the University of California in Davis California, Georg-August Universität in Göttigen Germany, the Central European University in Budapest and the University of Wisconsin, USA. Alexander’s talk will provide an introduction to Islam for non-Muslims seeking a better understanding of an important world religion. It begins with the life of Muhammad and briefly discusses his companions and successors. It explains how Ibadi and Sunni traditions emerged from the first and second fitna. It introduces the Quran as a text, and particularly emphasises the importance of the hadith traditions in Islamic law. It ends with a discussion of Islamic ethics and the concepts of Jihad, Kafir, Takfir. There will be time for questions.

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

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Wellington

From the 2021 AGM held by Zoom 6 September 2021: We thank Jolene Phipps, as Jolene steps down from her term as Humanist NZ President and we welcome Tim Wright as our incoming President. Tim was among the group who initiated the New Zealand NO GOD Bus campaign which morphed into the NO GOD Billboard campaign of 2011.

Humanism Radio Programme on Arrow 92.7FM change of time 

Tim Wright, Humanist NZ President, is hosting a Humanist Radio programme on the first Wednesday of the month at 9pm. The next Radio show is 9pm 6th October. It is available as a podcast.  Tim will compile a programme of humanist interest with news, views, interviews and music. Your feedback is welcome. Tim maybe contacted at

The Anatomy of a Parliamentary submission

Humanist NZ recently worked on a submission for the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Below is a three-part report of this process; the Submission text, the Oral Presentation to the Justice Select Committee, and Feedback from the Oral Presentation from Tim Wright (President) and Iain Middleton (Committee member).

Written Submission Text from Humanist Society of NZ (Inc.)

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.) is a secular organisation that supports Human Rights. Humanism embodies a secular approach to ethics and morality, and we have long supported the rights of LGBTQI+ communities. Our society strongly believes that conversion therapy practices are unethical, ineffective and harmful, and should be stopped.

Broadly speaking, we support the goals of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, and believe that the outlawing of conversion therapy practices is long overdue. However, we believe the Bill can be enhanced to better protect the rights of those who are subjected to conversion therapy practices in New Zealand.

Preferential treatment of religious belief

The exemption in section 5(2)f is discriminatory. It conflicts with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which binds New Zealand, sections 13 and 15 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and sections 21 (1) (c) & (d) of  the Human Rights Act 1993 which refers to both “religious belief” and “ethical belief”. Under international legal conventions, both religion and belief must be included to avoid discrimination. The words “religion or belief” are used to conform with the UDHR and the ICCPR and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act while the NZ Human Rights Act would require “religious belief” and “ethical belief”. This needs correction.

While we would prefer to see this exemption deleted, we consider that an amendment to include non-religious belief would also be acceptable.

We would like to see:

(Preference) The removal of section 5(2)f; or

(Alternative) That 5(2)f is amended to include non-religious exemptions: The expression only of a religious or ethical principle or belief made to an individual that is not intended to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

No option of a fine

The Bill provides for imprisonment for up to 3 years under section 8 and 5 years under section 9. However, the alternative of a fine is not provided. This lack of fine is unusual under NZ law, and differs from the new law in Victoria, Australia, for example, where either a fine or imprisonment is allowed.

The option of a fine has the following benefits:

Can be applied to institutions,

Reduces the barriers to prosecution,

Does not have the cost of imprisonment, and

Does not cause the imprisoned person to be further entrenched in a criminal mindset.

We would like to see:

The option of a fine as well as imprisonment in the Bill.

No penalties for institutions

The new crimes created by the Bill allow for a person who “performs a conversion practice” to be imprisoned. However, the Bill has no penalties for organisations or institutions, or for the officers of those organisations or institutions that may have incited, organised, or condoned the criminal act. We consider this a significant omission. For clarity, examples of “institution” include (but are not limited to) company, charity, church, body corporate, and incorporated society.

In contrast, the Australian state of Victoria, as an example, allows fines for a body corporate that are five times higher than for an individual. An organisation or institution may employ a person or persons to carry out the conversion therapy practices, and we believe the organisation or institution and its officers should be liable for inciting or conducting the conversion therapy practices.

We feel this is important: many organisations that conduct conversion therapy practices are well funded, and a minor fine is unlikely to provide a suitable deterrent.

We would like to see:

Penalties with higher fines for organisations and institutions (including churches and charities) that breach the Act than for individuals; and

Officers of institutions should be personally liable

Officers of an institution should be personally liable if the institution they control provides conversion therapy practices. This has a precedent in New Zealand law: officers of an institution are liable for health and safety breaches.

For example, consider the following scenarios:

An individual conducting conversion therapy practices who is a low paid employee of a church is held responsible and penalised under the proposed law, while the persons ultimately responsible for organising the therapy are not; and

The people who are ultimately responsible for organising the conversion therapy practices may have protected themselves behind the protection of limited liability companies.

This is an important change which is needed to ensure that the individuals ultimately responsible for organising the conversion therapy practices are held responsible.

We would like to see:

Officers of an offending organisation to be held personally liable for breaches of the Act.

The liability for any sentence to be applicable to the controlling organisation of the organisation that was sentenced.

Option of criminal offence when no serious harm found

The NZ Bill makes it a criminal offence to carry out conversion therapy practices on a person under age 18, or to carry out conversion therapy that causes serious harm. This is a positive change, but in all other cases for people over 18 where no harm has been proven (to the standard required for criminal prosecution), the offence becomes civil rather than criminal.

We consider that conversion therapy is harmful and should not be allowed under any circumstances regardless of age. Consequently, we would like to see the age limit and conditions removed from section 8.

We would like to see:

The option of a criminal offence if the person is over 18 and no harm has been proven.

Section 8 amended to read as follows:

8 Offence to perform conversion practice on any person

(1) A person commits an offence if the person performs a conversion practice on any individual.

(2) Consent is not a defence under subsection (1).

(3) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years.

Barriers to prosecution

We are concerned that the proposed law will not be used because of the barriers to prosecution and consequently will prove ineffective and not be a deterrent. We see several barriers to prosecution:

First, because imprisonment is the only sentencing outcome, this may lead to a reluctance to prosecute. Those deciding if prosecution should proceed may consider that the case is not serious enough to warrant imprisonment.

Second, because the harm caused by conversion therapy is more likely to be psychological rather than physical, it will likely be difficult to prove that harm has occurred. This will provide a further barrier to prosecution.

Third, under section 12 of the Bill prosecutions require the consent of the Attorney-General. This is usually the case for crimes where a very high threshold is required for prosecution. However, in this case, this inclusion is likely to prove to be a significant impediment to prosecution. Because the New Zealand Attorney-General is a member of an elected political party, they may also be susceptible to political influences and could conceivably prevent warranted prosecutions.

Fourth, section 5 (1) (b) of the Bill specifies that conversion therapy practices have to be performed with the intent of changing someone’s sexual or gender orientation. Proof of intent is complex, and we would prefer to see a lower bar of proof of action.

As the crimes are not in the Crimes Act, police may not be aware of the crimes and may not investigate or prosecute.

We would like to see:

The addition of a fine as a sentencing option;

Removal of the requirement for the Attorney-General to approve proceedings;

Additional offence(s) for providing conversion therapy practices where intent to convert cannot be proven; and

Removal of intent from the definition of conversion therapy.

No support for Victims and Survivors

While criminalising and banning conversion therapy practices is laudable, we cannot ignore that these practices have not only been conducted in the past, but will also likely be conducted in the future – even after they are outlawed.

People who have undergone conversion therapy practices often need help to recover from the mental injury they might have suffered due to the practice. We would like the process for victims receiving help to be as seamless, and as focused on the victims and survivors, as possible.

We would like to see:

An extension to the scope of ACC to cover mental injury as a result of conversion therapy practices; that is conversion practices should be added to the list of criminal offences in schedule 3 of the Accident Compensation Act 2001.

Oral Presentation to the Justice Select Committee  Humanist NZ is from 20:22

The full video may be watched at the above link.

Tim introduced himself as President of Humanist NZ and gave a short summary of our Society’s purpose. Iain then made the point that support for the LGBTQI+ community has been a consistent position over the 54 years of our existence. Tim said we supported the Bill with some concerns, which included that there was a breach of international law and that it may not be used at all due to a number of problems including the barriers to prosecution that we have identified and that consequently it may not act as a deterrent or have any impact. Iain then covered freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and the preferential treatment of religious belief in the Bill, that conversion therapy cannot be considered freedom of expression when it breaches the right of others to freedom of thought, the unnecessary requirement for the Attorney general to approve a prosecution, and the lack of an option of a fine.  Tim covered the lack of penalties for institutions and officers of institutions not personally liable, no criminal offence when no serious harm is found, other barriers to prosecution, and no support for victims and survivors. Iain made the point that the requirement for the Attorney General’s consent could result in a Clayton’s Act, a law that you have when you do not want it to work in practice.

Feedback after the Oral Presentation

Tim’s Feedback – We read the definition of Humanism from our webpage. The committee chair thanked us for doing that as it gave her an understanding of what humanism is.

Iain covered freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and the preferential treatment of religious belief in the Bill, that conversion therapy cannot be considered freedom of expression and breaches other’s rights to freedom of thought, the requirement for the Attorney general to approve a prosecution, and no option of a fine.

I covered the lack of penalties for institutions, officers of institutions not personally liable, no criminal offence when no serious harm is found, other barriers to prosecution, and no support for victims and survivors.

I dialled in early and noticed a pattern to questions, so pre-emptively answered these questions:

What if a parent wants to stop a 10-year-old child from transitioning?

My view is that this is the issue of parental consent to a treatment for their child. That seems outside the scope of this bill – which seeks to outlaw a set of practices that are known to impact mental health of children and adults. The appropriateness of when to start medical transition treatment is a complex question, but, in general, I’d lean toward supporting the decision of the child.

Exemption for parents

Wording of the definition of Conversion Therapy in the bill already covers it.

Risk of alienating children. Many of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community have had to cut all contacts with their parents due to parents being problematic. This is super hard for my friends. Having an exemption will encourage parents to continue the behaviours that lead their children cutting contact.

Iain’s Feedback – Our suggestion that there should be an alternative to imprisonment such as a fine was taken up by some members of the committee and subsequent submitters were asked their opinion on this proposal.

The legal firm, DLA Piper, also discussed the need for alternatives to imprisonment and the unnecessary requirement for the Attorney General’s approval. Brett Jones, a lawyer turned priest, from the National Church leaders of Aotearoa, felt that restorative justice would be a better answer than a fine. However, various submitters from the LGBTQI+ community were not enthusiastic about a restorative justice option saying that it would just retraumatise the victims. In the past, the Catholic church ran something like restorative justice meetings as part of their coverup of sexual abuse and their attempt to silence the victims while the priests were moved to other parishes where they could start their abuse all over again.

Te Ngākau Kahukura and Inside Out representatives supported fines for institutions that run conversion therapy programmes. Inside Out also supported removal of charitable status for organisations running Conversion therapy programmes. I wonder if this would include removing charitable status from some churches.

Brodie Fraser of the Department of Public Health, Otago University, representing university professionals, supported the removal of section 12, the requirement that the Attorney General’s consent is required for prosecution, Catholic Bishops, however, said they strongly supported the retention of the need for the Attorney General’s consent but did not give a reason that I heard.

The Wellington City Youth Council want section 8, performing conversion practice on a person under the age of 18 years or lacking decision-making capacity altered to include all people under the age of 24.

Darren Gammie of the Assembly of God Churches, representing 221 churches, while saying his churches do not support conversion practices wanted to add 5 (2) (g) to the bill to ensure that his ministers were able to discuss sexuality with young people. He might have also included parents.

There was discussion involving several submitters and several MPs on who qualifies under 5 (2) (a) which states that “a conversion practice does not include a health service provided by a health practitioner in accordance with the practitioner’s scope of practice”. Is a health practitioner restricted to doctors and nurses or does it include psychologists and which brand of psychologists?  Does it include other councillors with various qualifications?

This gets quite complicated and I suspect that some people may have been talking at cross purposes without realising it. This area also involves differences of opinion on what might or might not be appropriate counselling by professionals and who is a professional and who is not.

Dr Paul Skirrow from the NZ College of Clinical Psychologists quoted “when you know better – do better”. There seemed to be an inference that in the past psychologists did a lot of things that would not be acceptable today. He was very short on specifics.

While there appeared to be general agreement by submitters and the committee that conversion practice was something that should not take place there appeared to be less agreement on exactly what a conversion practice is, and even a question as to whether it really existed! Is the definition under section 5 (1) adequate?

There was also concern expressed from some regarding unintended consequences. A concern that some people engaging in a discussion or practice that was intended to be beneficial and would not be harmful might get caught under the Act. Section 5 (2) appears to be written to exempt specific areas of discussion regarding gender expression but may have ignored other areas.

Science & technology The Economist/Sep 25th 2021 edition

Religious belief really does seem to draw the sting of poverty

Whether the cause is spiritual or social remains to be determined

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature…it is the opium of the people.” So wrote Karl Marx in 1844. The idea—not unique to Marx—was that by promising rewards in the next life, religion helps the poor bear their lot in this one.

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Jana Berkessel of the University of Mannheim, in Germany, and her colleagues takes a statistical look at the claim. Ms Berkessel’s curiosity was piqued by a counter-intuitive finding in development economics. Researchers know that low socioeconomic status correlates with poor mental health. The assumption was once that, as places became richer, this effect would weaken. Being poor in a rich country was presumed better than being poor in a poor one.

But that has turned out not to be true. Abundant evidence suggests the relationship between status and mental health is stronger, not weaker, in rich countries than in poor ones. Ms Berkessel, who studies the psychological effects of religion, noticed that economic development is also inversely correlated with religiosity—the richer a country, the more godless it tends to be. Perhaps that was driving the change?

To check, she and her colleagues analysed three surveys covering 3.3m people in 156 countries. This set of data reproduced the finding that economic development amplifies the link between mental health and status. It also supported the idea that religiosity could attenuate that effect. Among rich countries, for instance, those with higher levels of self-reported religious belief had a weaker relationship between status and mental health.

Other evidence buttresses the theory. One study covering 11 European countries, all rich, found the link between personal income and well-being was stronger in irreligious places than devout ones. After much statistical crunching, Ms Berkessel concluded that declining religiosity accounted for about half of the effect of growing wealth on the relationship between status and psychological well-being.

The upshot is that religion seems to protect people from at least some of the unpleasant effects of poverty. Exactly how is less clear. One hypothesis is that religious doctrine is directly protective. After all, many of the world’s biggest religions have a sceptical attitude to wealth. Alongside the well-known biblical verses about camels, needles and a rich person’s chance of entering the pearly gates, the researchers point out that the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindu holy book, says “The demoniac person thinks: So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more.” Similar sentiments can be found in the Koran and in some Buddhist texts. If God teaches that the wealthy are spiritually corrupt, or will get their comeuppance on Judgment Day, then poverty may seem less of a burden.

But there are other possibilities. Ms Berkessel points out that organised religion offers a social-support network which might help attenuate the effects of low status, whether or not its members really believe everything their holy texts say about wealth. Her next research project, she says, will look at exactly this point.

In the meantime, if religion really does help relieve poverty’s burden, one question is what, if anything, to do with that knowledge. The world is, after all, getting steadily richer, meaning relative poverty’s sting will only get sharper. A cynic might recall another well-known quote about religion, this time from Seneca, a Roman philosopher. “Religion”, he wrote, “is regarded by the common people as true, the wise as false, and the rulers as useful.”