Lockout sparks unholy row

By Simon Collins

An international conference aimed at countering "religious radicals" opens at Waitangi today - with New Zealand's Christian radicals led by the Destiny Church consigned to the streets.

Destiny's Bishop Brian Tamaki will lead what are expected to be hundreds of supporters in a protest outside the Asia-Pacific Interfaith Dialogue, which is being opened this morning by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The three-day, Government-sponsored meeting of "moderate" religious leaders from 15 nations is officially aimed at enhancing New Zealand's security by "having real potential to foster tolerance within our religiously diverse region and to counter religious radicalisation".

But Bishop Tamaki, who said he applied to join an "observer" group only to be told it did not exist, plans to issue his own alternative "Waitangi Declaration" affirming that New Zealand is still "a Christian nation".

Another group protesting against killings of left-wing leaders in the Philippines also plans to protest outside the Waitangi Treaty House when the foreign leaders receive a Maori welcome this morning.

Bishop Tamaki said the Clark Government was trying to "de-Christianise" New Zealand "under the radar" of public awareness.

He focused on a draft national statement on religious diversity, approved for debate at a national forum in Hamilton in February, which says the state seeks to treat all faith communities equally and that "New Zealand has no official or established religion".

Bishop Tamaki said New Zealand's heritage was Christian and it should stand up for its beliefs rather than promoting "diversity".

"I believe we are at a point where Christian-based nations must not be afraid to declare their religious allegiance, not to the exclusion of other religions, but to ensure that future generations can enjoy the moral traditions, values, safety and freedoms that Christianity affords," he said. "This would mean that alternative or foreign religions would not be afforded equal status to the established national religion, therefore restrictions on those religions would need to apply."

For example, he said, MPs and others involved in civic occasions should continue to swear allegiance on the Bible, the parliamentary prayer should continue to refer to "the Christian god Jesus Christ", and Christian values should be reflected in the education and justice systems and "our social arrangements". He said the proposed diversity statement was "the first step, and a big step, to opening the door to a diversity of religions, dismantling our own Christian heritage".

He warned that New Zealand should learn from Britain and France, where large-scale immigration had been permitted and "mosques are allowed to flourish".

Labour list MP Shane Jones, who will take part in the Maori welcome for visiting dignitaries today, said the bishop's claims were "hyperbole designed to profile his own political ambitions".

"Our country is bound up with Asia and the Pacific and it's foolish to imagine that we can go forward without coping with diversity," he said. "When dealing with Brian Tamaki we live in the real world and he lives in Brian's world, and never the twain shall meet."

A spokesman for Helen Clark said the Waitangi meeting was about diversity and religious leaders had been invited "who are judged to be sympathetic to the aims of cross-cultural dialogue".

"Anyone can see that comments made by Brian Tamaki are far from that aim," he said.

Destiny spokesman Richard Lewis said the church asked to be included in an observer group for the meeting, but was told two weeks later that the observer group did not exist.


Religious Conference

* The 2002 Bali attack spurred a security crackdown on the region's terror groups and also spurred some lateral initiatives.

* One of those is the Regional Interfaith Dialogue, a gathering of religious leaders from 15 Asia-Pacific countries that aims to promote moderation and tolerance in an attempt to undercut radicalism.

* The first dialogue was held in Indonesia in 2004 and the second in the Philippines last year. The third begins at Waitangi today.

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