Divided beliefs over Bible in the classroom

By Simon Greening, David Hines

One in three state primary and intermediate schools teaches religious instruction, according to a survey which has triggered debate over what children are being taught. Here, the chief of the Churches Education Commission, Simon Greening, and the survey's author, David Hines, present their views

Critics say the Bible has no part in secular schools. Photo / Getty Images
Critics say the Bible has no part in secular schools. Photo / Getty Images


Why should New Zealand primary schools continue to offer a Christian religious education programme to students?

Because we live in a global village and therefore primary school students should have the opportunity to learn about the various religions in our world. The Churches Education Commission provides a Christian-based religious education programme. Other religious organisations have equal rights to provide religious-based education programmes in schools.

Because the curriculum we use teaches students the fundamental values upon which our civil society is built, for example: treat others as we would like to be treated, be honest, forgive others, look after people who are less fortunate than you.

Because the Bible is a great work of literature; this ancient book has influenced great works of art, inspired Broadway shows, and has been influential in shaping cultures around the world.

Its stories and ideas are embodied in history and literature. This is not to say that other religions don't also have holy books that they read from and hold in high regard; it's important students in an education environment have the opportunity of learning about the religions that have shaped the world in which we live.

• Simon Greening, chief executive, Churches Education Commission


The Human Rights Commission in 2009 published guidelines about religion in schools, and it made a sharp distinction between "religious instruction" and "religious education". Religious instruction means programmes that promote a single religion and invite children to make a decision about it. Religious education means programmes that are multi-cultural, and don't invite a decision.

I support religious education; I oppose religious instruction, because:

Religious education means teaching about multiple faiths, and that promotes understanding. Religious instruction means teaching about a single faith, and that promotes misunderstanding.

Religious education means teaching about the Bible critically, and that helps people understand the origins of each religion. Religious instruction means teaching about the Bible uncritically, and that means adopting Bible stereotypes such as the subservience of women, and suppression of gay rights.

Religious education includes teaching about the many historical contexts of Christianity, including its crusades and inquisitions. Religious instruction sweeps the negative parts of history under the carpet.

Religious freedom means giving space for different beliefs. You wouldn't preach Christianity in a mosque, or a synagogue, and you shouldn't preach it in a secular school.

Religious instruction forces children from Christian homes to go into one room, and children from non-Christian homes to go into another. Primary school children should not be forced into making that choice.

Religious instruction means presenting religious material to invite a decision. Children in years 1-8 shouldn't be invited to make a decision about religion at all.

The Education Act provides for schools to have their secular character put on ice once a week, to create a time in the school day for religious instruction. That provision is wrong.

Religious groups are all doing religious instruction. Principals with a sense of professional integrity should be discouraging it. Schools are for education.

• David Hines, rationalist
• Visit: wesleyschair.net

- NZ Herald

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