Submission on Updating the Education Act 1989

Our Society adheres to the fundamentals of modern Humanism as expressed in the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, in which Article 4 states:

Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.

The objective of our Society, established in 1964 is:

To advance ethics, science, and education to benefit the community by promoting a humanist approach to personal living and society in New Zealand. HSNZ seeks to represent the interests of non- religious people in New Zealand.

The Interest of HSNZ in the Education Act Review

Our interest is to return the NZ education system to the original education policy that was set in 1877 with the first NZ Education Act – education was to be free, universal and secular. This Act is based on the principle of separation of church and state, i.e. that the state should not endorse or promote any particular religion. In 1964 this secular principal was undermined with the inclusion of the “Nelson Clause”, as Sections 77, 78, 78A, 79, 80 and 81 in the Education Act 1964, to permit religious instruction outside of school hours. These sections were retained as part of the Education Act 1964 after the subsequent passing of the Education Act 1989.

We consider that these sections should be removed as over time they have been used to justify ‘closing the school’ at odd times during the day, in what most parents would believe to be normal school hours, to enable religious education classes to be held. Religious tutors are most often sincere but briefly trained volunteers. It can be difficult to prevent religious education becoming religious indoctrination. With modern developments in human understanding of the universe, the development of science and our understanding of the origins of the earth, the motion of the planets, and deeper understanding of the world, the teaching of ideas developed some two thousand years ago is anachronistic.

These classes detract from the purpose of schooling, which is to begin the education of our young people in the myriad disciplines of modern knowledge. The religious education classes are 30 minutes per week, which over a school year amounts to 40 teaching hours which could otherwise be more usefully directed.

As our country grows with an increasing number of communities with differing ‘faith’ or ‘non-faith ‘ stances, and because an increasing proportion of the population are becoming non-religious, the present ‘religions education’ classes are becoming increasingly sectarian and divisive. Ideally we should bring people together rather than divide them.

Our Recommendation

We recommend that the Government repeal sections 78, 78A, 79, 80 and 81 of the Education Act of 1964 relating to Religious Instruction and Observances in State Primary Schools.