Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Passions high over Bible in schools

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Schools are going through the "hurtful" process of choosing to drop religious instruction, with boards of trustees working through passionate arguments from parents on both sides of the debate.

The Herald was flooded with correspondence after yesterday's front-page story that reported on a survey of state primary and intermediate schools and found one in three taught religious instruction.

Katie Hills, acting principal at Torbay School, said the depth of feeling was displayed when the school's board of trustees recently decided to drop religious instruction.

A majority of parents voted for that, but feelings ran high on both sides. Bible lessons had run "forever", and the decision to end them had been controversial and emotional for the school community and staff.

"It wasn't an easy undertaking at all. It wasn't pleasant for anybody - for the people that were for it, and the people against it. It's because it pulls on all your personal values.

And it was hurtful for a lot of people. And it's a shame, really, that it had to go that way - that it became so stressful for so many people on both sides."

A large proportion of students had opted out of religious instruction in recent years, and some families made it known they were strongly opposed to it being offered.

Rationalist David Hines used the Official Information Act to question every state school that taught up to Year 8 level. He used that information to create a public database on schools and their system of religious instruction.

The survey, sent to more than 1,800 schools, revealed 578 had religious instruction classes of which 56 said they did not know the content of those lessons. More than 60 schools have dropped religious instruction in the past two years and as part of the survey, principals were asked why they discontinued the programme.

Browns Bay School principal Roger Harnett ended religious instruction at the end of 2011. He said it was because of time pressures, inappropriate programmes and because religious instruction was a "parent responsibility".

But a former teacher said the benefit of religious instruction was felt by school staff.

"The real reason 'God' is allowed in schools is because hard-pressed primary school teachers are just glad of a half-hour respite ... good catch-up time for massive amounts of unnecessary central government-imposed paperwork."

Gavin Milley said he believed society was suffering because of a lack of moral teaching.

"Religious instruction teaches good principles for living, consequences of actions and right and wrong.

"We as a nation chose to ignore that our country and laws and calendar are based and founded on Christianity and God's 10 commandments."

Readers' views

Richard Clark: "Religion is a personal choice - it has no place in state-funded schools. Simple really."

Christine Richardson: "While some kids already will get some of this education at home, some kids aren't and this is a positive input into their lives and can only be a good thing."

Brian Lehtonen: "Children do not need supernatural instruction in school. The values that the church sees as their own are not. These are universal human values. The world needs more adults who do not indulge in make-believe."

Stefan Nogaj: "The content being taught is always positive and if anything instils beneficial life skills. And remember, the mention of God is in our national anthem so naturally children have the right to understand the context of God's inclusion."

Andrew Robson: "The issue as I see it is they teach the Bible as fact. This leads to major confusion when my kids get home and I try and tell them that the Bible is a story that some people believe and some don't. If they are going to teach Bible in class they should teach it hand in hand with evolution and Darwin's theory."

- NZ Herald

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