Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Bible teachers dropped for preaching at kids

Volunteer stood down for giving 'inappropriate' lesson on Adam and Eve to children at Auckland school

Many primary schools have dropped or are reviewing their religious studies classes. Photo / Thinkstock
Many primary schools have dropped or are reviewing their religious studies classes. Photo / Thinkstock

The country's largest provider of religious instruction in schools has stood down three volunteers for teaching pupils their own beliefs.

Churches Education Commission (CEC) chief executive Simon Greening said he removed the three volunteer teachers for deviating from the organisation's strict code of expectations, and that there may have been others around the country.

In the latest of the three Auckland incidents this year, Mr Greening said a teacher of the Christian-based weekly class at a South Auckland primary school was investigated following a complaint two months ago for an "inappropriate" Bible lesson on Adam and Eve.

Mr Greening would not elaborate on the content but the volunteer was removed from the CEC's national base of 2800 Christian Religious Education (CRE) teachers.

He said he had dealt with six complaints and three stand-downs in his 14 months as head of the organisation, which runs the Bible-based classes in 730 secular schools nationwide.

The other two teachers stood down volunteered at South and West Auckland schools and Mr Greening said those were only the stand-downs he was involved in.

Two of the six complaints, which did not lead to stand-downs, were over teachers telling the class Santa Claus did not exist.

Claims by the Secular Education Network that children had been told they would "go to hell" had not been lodged as official complaints to CEC, Mr Greening said.

"If people are saying you'll go to hell for your sins, that is a breach of our code and we'll investigate that and we'll stand that teacher down. We're there to educate, not evangelise."

In August Mr Greening apologised to parents who didn't know the weekly half-hour programme was Christian-based education after it was reported the CEC told followers schools were an "under-utilised mission field".

But Mr Greening denied the CEC used schools to convert children to Christianity.

"There's no putting any pressure on kids to make any choice about becoming Christian."

The CEC now includes an "opt out" form in its brochure for parents who do not want their children learning the $1500 a year curriculum, which is funded by churches from 16 denominations, including Presbyterian, Anglican, and Baptist.

On Tuesday the Herald revealed a photograph of a little girl reading a book alone in a "naughty corner" at Red Beach School, near Orewa.

The 7-year-old's father, Jeff McClintock, opted his daughter out of a similar programme called Values in Action, run by the Life In Focus Trust, but was dismayed to find her sitting unattended at the back of another classroom.

Red Beach School principal Julie Hepburn said in a letter sent to parents and obtained by the Herald, that the school did not and had never had a "naughty spot".

"The procedure for children who are 'opted out' of this programme is to go to a 'buddy class'."

The letter said a survey of parents was overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the programme.

Secular Education Network co-ordinator Peter Harrison said children whose parents opted them out of the class felt ostracised from their peers and at the very least the classes should be "opt in" not "opt out".

"There's children being given rubbish duties or they have to sit in a corner. There's also CRE teachers telling children they're going to go to hell. These are what parents have been telling me."

Mr Harrison said the network would campaign to change legislation to have the classes abolished.

Auckland Methodist lay preacher David Hines, a member of the Secular Education Network, is against religion in schools because he said it goes against freedom of religion and human rights. He surveyed the country's 1600 primary schools and of the 700 that replied, he found 13 dropped religious instruction in 2012, and a further nine won't continue the classes next year.

Up to 86 were reviewing the classes for 2013.

Campbells Bay School on Auckland's North Shore has not offered the classes since last year.

Principal John McGowan said in this year's survey of parents, 79 "opted in" and 145 "were not opted in".

"There was a very clear majority who did not opt in their children so it was an easy decision."


Religious classes

Christian Religious Education teachers must:
• Teach without denominational bias
• Not teach about hell or any other controversial subject such as creationism or "end of time".
• Not dismiss Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny as untrue.
• Be trained by and use the curriculum of the Churches Education Commission.
• Be police vetted.
• Abide by code of expectations including no religious jargon and respecting beliefs of students.

Lessons include:
• Bible stories such as those of Abraham, King David, and the disciples.
• The story of Christmas through the birth of Jesus and the Easter story, including the belief Jesus died on the cross and rose again.
• Stories about famous New Zealanders including Sir Edmund Hillary, Kate Sheppard and Peter Snell.
• Values including personal worth, courage, inclusion, loving thy neighbour and forgiveness.
• Notions of right and wrong including not stealing, lying, or hurting others.

- NZ Herald

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