Non-Christians say New Zealand is not welcoming to other religions and they want more than mere "tolerance" of their faiths.
Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims at a national forum in Hamilton yesterday all objected to the word "tolerance" in a draft National Statement on Religious Diversity.
But they all supported other clauses in the draft statement which are opposed by evangelical Christian churches - a principle that New Zealand "has no state religion", and another stating that all schools should teach about diverse religions "in an impartial manner".
Destiny Church leader Bishop Brian Tamaki has described the draft as "treasonous" because the British monarchy and the Maori king movement are both committed to Christianity.
But Governor-General Anand Satyanand, a Roman Catholic of Fiji-Indian descent, opened the two-day national forum about the statement last night by acknowledging that religious conflict was often "fuelled by a lack of understanding".
"It is well known that what we do not understand, we fear," he said.
Joan Buchanan, a Canadian-born Buddhist now living at Orewa, told a pre-forum women's meeting that she was appalled at how "non-welcoming" New Zealand was to minority cultures.
"It's very subtle, but it's not an inclusiveness," she said.
In contrast to the multicultural society she was used to in Canada, she found that most New Zealanders were ignorant about other religions, there was virtually no state funding of education about them, and the state placed barriers on the international contacts that were their lifeblood. For example, she knew of six Asian Buddhist monks who could not get New Zealand residence permits.
Ms Buchanan said: "Tolerance is a low virtue. I don't want to be tolerated, I want to be respected and understood. Tolerance is what I do when I have a sore tooth."