Latest incident of young girl left kneeling in corner during Bible class reinforces need for urgent law change

This morning’s Herald photo of a young girl kneeling by a rubbish bin during a ‘Christian’ class at Red Beach School has shocked me to the core.

I had naively thought that this kind of treatment of non-conforming children had gone the way of the cane and the strap, but no, it appears ‘One Way Jesus’ is alive and well in New Zealand schools.

The United States of America is much maligned among many of my colleagues on the leftward side of New Zealand politics.

However, America’s resolute constitutional stand on secularism in publicly funded schools is something I admire hugely, and is well overdue in Aotearoa.

This is an issue that has simmered away for decades, with irregular eruptions of parent discontent, for example in April this year, and the recent emergence of a facebook group  ‘Keep religion out of schools’ failing to bring about any visible movement for change.

We live in a secular state. There is no state religion in New Zealand.

The last census in 2006 showed that while Christianity is still big here, with 55.6% of those who answered the question on religion identifying as some form of Christian, I reckon this is far from any kind of mandate for the ongoing provision of Christian education in state schools.

The same census also demonstrated that there were large increases in people affiliating to some non-Christian religions – for example, Sikhism – up 83%; Hinduism – up nearly 40%; and Islam – up by more than 50%.

In addition, 34.7% of respondents – well over a million people – stated that they had no religion at all, also an increase on the previous census.

My guess would be that these trends have only intensified in the period since.

I cannot see what justification there is in 2012 for allowing any one form of religion to teach its creed within state schools. I believe that:

  • Sections 77-79 of the Education Act 1964 should be repealed so that the Churches Education Commission, formerly the Bibles in Schools League,  should no longer have privileged access to state primary schools.
  • Serious consideration be given to introducing the study of philosophy and comparative religion to all state schools, in age appropriate ways, alongside the introduction of civics (political and economic) education.
  • School-based instruction in any particular religion should be available only in schools which are of a religious nature, where parents and students have made a deliberate choice for this form of education.

A further related point arising from the shocker contained in this morning’s article is the treatment of pupils who have asked to be excused from attending Christian education at their primary school.

Requiring a 7-year-old girl to kneel in the ‘naughty corner’ by a rubbish bin in front of her whole class while religious education is being carried out is nothing short of psychological if not physical abuse.

I hope that serious questions are now being asked at all levels of Red Beach School’s parent and teacher community.

I also wonder how many other children are having this kind of humiliation inflicted on them every week – and how many more are sitting through so-called ‘Values in Action’ classes because of the fear of what will happen to them if they don’t conform?

This archaic, barbaric nonsense should stop right now.

I would love to know the policy of each of our political parties in relation to this matter.

I have to admit the much - and deservedly - maligned Education Minister Hekia Parata could earn a good few brownie points, even with me, if she took action on this immediately.

But I also know that if I was still a Member of Parliament, I’d be drafting a private member’s bill today, instead of writing a blog.


Comments (7)

by dave on December 04, 2012

Whats to stop  you drafting a private members bill now, and then giving it to your former parliamentary colleagues?

by Sue Bradford on December 05, 2012
Sue Bradford

Thanks for the challenge Dave - nothing to stop me, except the fact that a) I"m unwaged at present and have no resources to spend time on drafting,unlike those with access to parliamentary funding and staff; & b) I'm more than fully occupied with starting the final year of my PhD, & with existing community & political voluntary work.  A member's bill also needs genuine commitment from at least one MP, and preferably their party -   I do hope someone will pick this issue up.

by Andin on December 06, 2012

Well, your not going to be able to do much. There seems to be a regular infestation of "valuesinaction" members at Red Beach School. Might be a coven? Yeah that was a joke. The more criticism these people get the stronger they cling to their"faith" human nature is funny like that. And the lawyerly approach, i.e. if someone believes something with such strong conviction there might be something in it for them. Translated "Let sleeping dogs lie" . Human history is littered with people who strongly believed nonsense. The hands off approach just doesnt work. Just got to make a wider audience know whats going on. Good luck

by Matthew Percival on December 06, 2012
Matthew Percival

Whilst I agree with the general principle of your piece I'd like to think that there were other alternatives than the heavy hand of legislation to deal with this.

I think parliaments time could be better spent on other issues than getting kids out of naughty corners.

by DeepRed on December 09, 2012

A law change was on the table a few years back, but the Govt of the day got cold feet. This goes much further than simply a naughty corner - the CEC is a known advocate of Intelligent Design and other scientifically discredited dogmas.

Matt P: would you be quite as dismissive of the issue, if the religious class was Muslim?

by Jeff McClintock on December 11, 2012
Jeff McClintock

Violet sends you a hug Sue ;)

by Geoff Fischer on January 12, 2013
Geoff Fischer

Taking the report at face value, that is no way to treat a child, but you need a bit more evidence to support your suggestion that that "many other children" could be "having this kind of humiliation inflicted on them every week".    In New Zealand education is "free, secular and compulsory".   The last state school I attended encouraged - enforced would probably be a better word - secular values of militarism, imperialism, and racism.   I would have preferred some honest to God Christianity.   Perhaps you could tell us  exactly what problem you have with Christianity, or religion in general, apart from the fact that one Christian appears to have acted inappropriately.

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