Is time up for Bible in Schools? What are your rights as a parent?

By   /   February 23, 2015  /   32 Comments

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The issue of Bible lessons in schools was revived again on the weekend, with the case of Jeff McClintock in the Hibiscus Coast, who is seemingly powerless to choose whether or not his child attends Bible in Schools sessions at their primary school.

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The issue of Bible lessons in schools was revived again on the weekend, with the case of Jeff McClintock in the Hibiscus Coast, who is seemingly powerless to choose whether or not his child attends Bible in Schools sessions at their primary school. His daughter has repeatedly been forced to attend Bible in Schools classes despite consent being withdrawn by her parents – which goes against the Education Act 1964, recommendations from the Education & Science Select Committee and the Ministry of Education’s policy on these programmes. And all he wants is for this behaviour from Red Beach to stop before his son has to go through the same ridiculous rigmarole and stigma.

From the Select Committee report:

5. For those Boards that wish to offer religious instruction or observances, however, limited discretion is available to do so during periods where classes or the school as a whole are considered closed. The periods where the school is used for religious instruction or observances cannot exceed either 60 minutes in any week or 20 hours in any school year and any instruction can only be led only by volunteer instructors. Any student participation in these activities is voluntary, and students may be given an exemption from participation if a parent requests this in writing.

6. In this way, the aim of educational legislation is to ensure that, if religious instruction and observances are offered they are effectively “fenced off” from the secular life of a school. The Instruction and observances should occur outside normal teaching hours…

So, by law, your child is not actually at school during Bible in Schools. It is therefore an extracurricular activity, and it is entirely up to you and your child whether they attend or not.

Something else worth thinking about as a school community of parents – are you actually ok with your child’s school effectively closing down during official school hours for the purpose of religious instruction?

And also, are you ok with your children being alone in the classroom with an unqualified teacher who can teach religion without any monitoring by staff? Because it’s illegal for teachers to be in the room during Bible in Schools, due to our secular state system. Obviously the vast majority of Christians are harmless, as are most Muslims and people of all faiths, but there is the risk of well-meaning but fundamentalist instructors without supervision being unintentionally harmful. Take the situation raised this weekend – the attitude of the organisation providing Bible in Schools to Red Beach School is more than a bit eyebrow-raising – ‘parents did not need to be notified because the classes were “history lessons” as the Bible was factually correct.’ I could rant on for 1000 words about that alone, but long story short – EEEEEK.

Anecdotal examples of issues that have arisen around Bible in Schools for parents NZ wide include:

  • Numerous parents who have opted their child out finding their child is in the ‘class’ anyway.
  • Reports of lollies and prizes being used during Bible in Schools – adding to children’s feelings of exclusion and missing out. Also of children who don’t attend being offered chocolate if they join the class.
  • Bible in Schools instructors crying and praying over a child because they were afraid for the child’s soul and that the child would not get into heaven.
  • Children being told they did not come from their parents, but from God – at an age far too young to understand the complexity of that analogy, creating anxiety at a very important emotional developmental period.
  • Teaching young children about Abraham sacrificing his son – making it seem totally ok for a parent to almost kill/kill their child if God told them to.
  • The same parent going to court initially became concerned after he arrived at his daughter’s school to find her kneeling facing the wall in the ‘naughty corner’ because she wasn’t participating.

So we have risks to children’s emotional health, a lack of monitoring expected in every other area of the education system and a legal quagmire around religious instruction in NZ state schools.

I can completely understand Jeff’s frustration. He is taking the school’s board of trustees to court, and good on him, because what Red Beach School is doing is illegal.

So it really has me scratching my head that the Board of Trustees of this school, as well as teachers & principals (obviously involved, someone keeps putting her back in the class!) seem to think they can flout legislation and guidelines from the government – let alone claim this court case is a “frustration” and a “distraction from core business”. The solution is simple. Don’t force children who have/whose parents have decided not to participate in religious instruction to attend. Seriously – what on earth is so hard about that?! This school, and others around NZ, are breaching not only the Education Act but the Human  Rights Act by forcing children to attend Bible in Schools.

If you are having trouble with your child’s school around religious instruction, I hope the links peppered through this blog give you the understanding and information you need to advocate for your child if you or your child chooses to opt out.

Fortunately at the school my son attended, the staff took opting-out seriously. Kids whose parents did not want them to attend, and/or kids who decided for themselves they did not want to attend (do not underestimate the logic of a child – my son went for one term (I kept my feelings about the program to myself), then declared without any pushing from me that he didn’t want to learn about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or God – because none of them were real) were relegated to the school library to spend an hour reading books. This seems to be the norm – excluded kids get sent off to the library for a while.

Obviously, as a tutor, writer, journalism grad and ex-librarian, I put great emphasis on the importance of reading. A half hour of reading is beneficial for every child. But is it the right atmosphere to encourage reading? At a time where I imagine most excluded children wish they could be with their classmates working together on something? I worry that the use of the library as an exclusion zone may produce resentment towards reading books. Result? Stuff reading, it’s boring and dumb and I want chocolate.
The Ministry of Education recommends a mix of activities for children not attending religious instruction, and no doubt some schools do, but with the ever-growing amount of bureaucratic paperwork teachers are loaded with, many spend that precious time out of class working on paperwork rather than supplying a range of enriching activities.

Then there is the issue of our ethnic melting-pot of a country. Is it fair that children from all corners of our wonderful world only study Christianity?
And here is where the crux of the entire issue lies for me. Does a secular school mean an atheist school? No. It’s a shame that the two are understood to be the same, because what the concept of a secular state school actually is, is that it’s a place that is safe for children of all cultural and religious backgrounds. It is not actually about removing religion, morality and belief, but about acknowledging all faiths. Atheist writer Michael Nugent writes about this very well in his blog here. I couldn’t agree more. The Human Rights Commission link above also gives some guidelines around how to encourage understanding of all beliefs and cultures in primary schools, rather than focusing solely on Christianity.

There is, in my mind, definitely a place for schools to teach children about beliefs, morals and the history of religion. Our education curriculum expects schools to teach values. This part of our state curriculum includes tackling issues by teaching and modelling acceptance of all people and faiths, such as:

  • excellence, by aiming high and by persevering in the face of difficulties
  • innovation, inquiry, and curiosity, by thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively
  • diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritage’s
  • Equity, through fairness and social justice
  • community and participation for the common good
  • ecological sustainability, which includes care for the environment
  • integrity, which involves being honest, responsible, and accountable and acting ethically
  • And to respect themselves, others, and human rights.

Instead of Bible in Schools, I would like to see every school in NZ put huge emphasis on the values component of the NZ school curriculum. As a mum looking for a primary school for my son 8 years ago in still-growing-in-diversity Invercargill, my checklist included finding a school where my son would grow up with values like accepting and understanding differences in ethnicity and disability. Where discrimination and bullying was challenged. Where everyone was taught that we are one big community made up of lots of different people and to respect each other’s beliefs and abilities.

Luckily, I found just the school. His classmates during primary school came from Muslim, Hindu, atheist, Christian (and no doubt other religions) families from many ethnicities. In big cities, the mix of beliefs is even more obvious and diverse. Yet only Christianity has 20 hours a year of access to the full attention of our children in state schools.

Alongside this culture of acceptance and understanding for all, what would be the cherry on the cake for me as a mother is (alongside the dumping of National Standards) a turn away from the relentless focus on numeracy & literacy alone in our primary schools, and more resources put into social & integrated studies – including a social studies program for primary school students where they learn about the different belief systems around the world as part of their journey to social & cultural understanding.

From that point on, I truly feel that it is up to parents to engage with their child during this program and talk one on one about their family’s belief system. That way, no matter what any of us believe in, every parent can ensure that their child receives exactly the desired information about their belief system. And our kids will get an hour’s more education in the subjects we all send them to school for.
Win-win.

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About the author

Rachael Goldsmith (B.App.Med.Arts – Journalism, Nat.Dip – Human Resources, Nat.Cert – Social Services) is a writer & social justice activist from Invercargill, Southland.

32 Comments

  1. adam says:

    I should teach Atheism in the class room. If they teach bible – I should be able to teach kids that there is no god.

    Simple really. If schools persist on this line – then the opposite view should be put forward – forcefully with out complaint and on the same terms.

    The full 20 hours.

    • Sam says:

      @ADAM I don’t think many school boards will go for that.

      In my opinion, closing a school for a religious class is just ridiculous. These assemblies don’t even qualify as education, in my experience it was a bunch of young happy-clappers telling bible stories and brainwashing.

      I don’t object to church groups offering an opt-in, after-hours programme, but it’s unacceptable for schools to shepherd students into these assemblies during school hours as if it’s a legitimate part of school. I wasn’t informed that I could opt-out, a decision I would have been perfectly capable of making in intermediate school.

      • Draco T Bastard says:

        I don’t object to church groups offering an opt-in, after-hours programme,

        That’s what the legislation should say. Specifically, it should say that bible classes in a school can only happen outside of school hours including the extra hours that the teachers spend there.In other words, the church can rent the class on the same commercial terms as everyone else.

        I wasn’t informed that I could opt-out, a decision I would have been perfectly capable of making in intermediate school.

        My mother told me that I didn’t have to participate if I didn’t want to so I didn’t. In fact, I used to go to sleep in class during bible sessions.

  2. cleangreen says:

    The Church set itself up as the moral voice of God and will not intervene in moral issues of a corrupt Government still lying every day to us all.

    So why should me as a Christian believe in any of our institutions who regard themselves as the moral voice of God?

    Especially if we see this same administrating Government who begins Parliament with scriptures of the bible and then goes on during the same day practicing with corrupt practices.

    I will remain a Christian outside the Church and retain my dignity and clear conscientious.

  3. Richard Christie says:

    The whole concept of having to opt out is repugnant.

    Those who want to attend fantasy land ought to have to opt in.

    • 333 says:

      We have no ‘opt out’ option from the fantasy land that we were born into. . . This Society, . . .this ‘Democracy’. . .Just because there is a consensus, doesn’t make it any more of a reality than any other.

      You could always educate said Christians as to what is ‘Reality’. What is the full and correct knowledge, what is the Truth that you know?

      Sincerely

  4. Who Gnu says:

    I’d like Satanism taught in my kid’s class.

    What are the chances??

      • 333 says:

        “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” – The basic, fundamental tenet of Satanism. This is the philosophy of the majority of people in this day and age, and this is what most parents teach their children, either in word or in deed (maybe with the added condition/caveat “Love is the law, love under will.”).

        So I doubt there is a need to teach Satanism to the little ones in school when they are indoctrinated into this way of life by the culture and society in which they are born, from the moment they are born.

        But the world (and life) is surely becoming a better place to live as the years roll by. . .right!

  5. sufficiently appalled says:

    Surely for a well rounded education into the human condition , all belief systems should be studied . As long as this important subject is done in a balanced academic manner without proselytizing then no child should have to opt in or out.

    • 333 says:

      Baffling how anyone could think that what you stated is in any way negative. Some would argue for ignorance?!

      Condemnation without investigation is the highest form of ignorance. ~ Albert Einstein

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      There’s a difference between studying religion as part of social studies and being taught to believe in a specific religion. Bible classes in school do the latter.

  6. Liberty4NZ says:

    Although I fundamentally agree with what you are saying Racheal, Freedom of Religion and all that, the reality is some kids would opt out of mathematics, spelling, reading or whatever if given the choice. Furthermore I agree with your opinion that the the Bible being presented as historical fact is questionable, much like many of the official versions of ‘History’ taught in our education system. Your examples of fear-mongering the children by bible study teachers sound extreme and if true they need to be held accountable, just as any teacher would, on any subject. I have my faith and I am not a Christian. My sons enjoy their bible study class. The teachers are kind and caring. The children play games and have fun. The world is a harsh place so I see any doses of morality taught to our children as a positive thing, even if some of it, in my opinion, is misguided. Lighten up people.

    • Chch_chiquita says:

      But!
      1. those teaching the bible class are not teachers. They are volunteers from wherever and thus not accountable to the school.
      2. We are talking about a SECULAR education system and bible class is NOT part of the curriculum.
      3. Morality is already part of the curriculum and that IS taught by teachers.

      The issue is these bible classes are being given special treatment that none other extracurricular activity receives. What we need is for this activity to become like all others – be an opt-in and outside school hours.

      • Liberty4NZ says:

        Chch_chiquita,
        Everyone, everything, that goes on in a school is accountable to the School Board, that’s why we have them. The School Board in turn, is accountable to the Ministry of Education. I work at a school and your statement is incorrect. I would really love to see where in the cirriculum, teaching morality is mentioned. If you have that would you please provide the evidence. Being a good example to the children is part of the job of a teacher, as is the job of a parent. My main point is that obviously some experiences of school bible studies appear to be negative. Some experiences of other subjects are negative too. Let’s get rid of allgebra! I’ve never used it in real life, it doesn’t make sense, it’s boring. But, it is the language of mathematics. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, it is the language of right from wrong, way more important in my view.

    • Kingi says:

      “some kids would opt out of mathematics, spelling, reading or whatever if given the choice”……So are you equating the teaching of maths, english, sciences and the arts with bible in schools? Sounds like it. Completely different, if you ask me. And what is “questionable” about the history being taught at schools, in your opinion?

      • Liberty4NZ says:

        I’m glad you asked Kingi, yes I do equate any subjects taught in school as questionable and arguable on facts. For example I am quite sure the the people of Germany would give a very different account of the truth, as taught in western countries, of World War Two, according to their first hand experience, the hardships they endured to allow the monster they allowed. Just as in the future John Key may well be presented in the history books as the saviour of New Zealand’s economy, in the official story. Many people with first hand knowledge would scoff at that, but you can’t object to what is said once you are dead. The MSM is controlled and, don’t you get it? The education system is controlled too. My point is firstly, according to recent legislation, you are not required to be a qualified teacher to head a classroom, have you been asleep? (No worries, you are not alone). Secondly, our children are being primed in all aspects, to tow the party line, as per the curriculum. ALL the curriculum.

        • Kingi says:

          Actually, I am a fully trained, registered teacher. Yes you can teach in a dodgy charter school and not be trained or registered, but thankfully, not in a state school (well, not yet, anyway). Changes to teacher training including the so-called fast tracking will weaken teaching standards, no doubt about it. So no, I am not asleep, far from it. But as to “equate any subjects taught in school as questionable and arguable on facts” what “facts” are questionable? And do you include Bible in schools in your list of subjects? Because the point of the article is that it clearly is not a subject. Is it?

          • Liberty4NZ says:

            State schools can have an un-registered teacher employed, in training, provided a registered teacher is on-site. Yes I include all subjects, including bible studies, as questionable. You state things as facts, only because someone else told you it was a fact. There are many differing opinions as to why Rome fell, for example.

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      the reality is some kids would opt out of mathematics, spelling, reading or whatever if given the choice.

      There’s a difference between religion and the fundamental basics of the universe which you need to learn to operate successfully in society.

      The world is a harsh place so I see any doses of morality taught to our children as a positive thing

      So do I but I don’t see any morality in religion. In fact, more often than not I see immorality.

      • Liberty4NZ says:

        I disagree. Everything we are taught at school is based on a general consensus. A consensus happens when something is repeated enough times. Once upon a time the general consensus was the world is flat. If you are concerned about your kids then teach them to question things when they don’t make sense. Teach them to think for themselves. That education needs to be taught at home. Draco, you say you don’t see any morality in religion? The ten commandments are a pretty good start.

  7. Dan says:

    Given the diversity in NZ (and I mean that in all respects) I really do not see a place for any religious study in schools, unless you send your child to a (private) religious school.

  8. Stuart Munro says:

    Actually, I think religious education should be in schools – I saw a couple of classes in Chichester two years ago. Students learned the basic beliefs and ceremonies of Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist societies. It was well done and the children enjoyed it.

    • Kingi says:

      I totally agree that students should learn about world religions and Social Studies is the ideal context for this. But not in a proselytizing way. There is confusion for some people over the distinction between studying religions, and religious study.

      • Stuart Munro says:

        This was a standalone subject – I think it may have included atheism too – but I was only there for a day, didn’t see everything. I thought it was a good investment in tolerance.

  9. Cagey says:

    Shouldn’t a parent have the right to remove their child from an extracuriculum activity that they don’t want their child participating in without overt pressure by the school – be it bible studies. learning an instrument or school camps? This feels like a case of a school overstepping it position of authority.

  10. Don Cammock says:

    Anything taught without facts to back them up . Should be banned in schools all together. All religions are pure fiction, I never allowed such rubbish to be taught to any of my children .

    • Liberty4NZ says:

      We have a evil leader in this country, John Key, and you still deny there is Good and Evil? He is about to send people away to a war that can’t be won. Yep, we really are screwed.

  11. Cassie says:

    Bible is on it’s way OUT.

    BUT

    Instead, more important things to learn

    Gay sex
    Masturbation
    How to put a condom on someone’s dick,
    (we can’t tolerate innocence these days)

    and coming soon…
    – introducing your child to Pornography
    (this will be great for all those poor innocent kids who never heard of it)

    So much healthier values being taught to kids these days

    • Of course they are important to learn. Because they are real. They are actually happening in our kids lives whether we like it or not and are far more important concepts to grasp (I’d add consent to the list) than Jesus. Although just to calm your hysteria, you are comparing something taught from 10-up to something taught at 6. If you rate ‘innocence’ over ‘reality’ for our 10-18yr olds you’re signing up for your kids going through unnecessary trauma because your cloak won over their development, life skills and mental health.

    • Cassie – are you taking the mickey?!