Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

'Go to hell' class stirs dad

Paul Bennett is opposing religious instruction at Howick's Point View School, which his daughter attends. Picture / Dean Purcell
Paul Bennett is opposing religious instruction at Howick's Point View School, which his daughter attends. Picture / Dean Purcell

An Auckland father who says his daughter was told during religious instruction that she would go to hell is campaigning to have the classes dropped from her state school.

Paul Bennett said the incident happened about two years ago and was the catalyst for him becoming a member of the Secular Education Network (SEN), a group opposed to religious instruction in state schools.

However, the organisation running the instruction says it has had no complaints about lessons at the school and parents are free to have their children opt out.

This afternoon, members of the network will hand out leaflets to parents at Point View School in Howick.

The primary school is reviewing the future of its long-running Bible class programme, which runs once a week for half an hour over about three terms.

It has sent a notice to parents asking them if they want their children to be included.

By law, state schools are secular, but can choose to "close" during school hours for religious lessons.

The notice to parents included material from the Churches Education Commission (CEC), which runs the programmes, and Mr Bennett said parents needed the full picture.

"We thought we would respond in kind, giving our perspective or side of the argument, to try and get the discussion going.

"If you are trying to make it something that teaches values and virtues, such as inclusiveness, to me, where is the inclusiveness in forcing people to make a choice about whether they are in or out of this class?"

Point View has asked parents to respond to the survey by this Friday.

Board of trustees chair Grant Webster said it had taken a neutral position on the issue. The survey was not a result of any complaints but had been an agenda item from the previous board.

Mr Webster said the material accompanying the survey was not promotional, and was a "very basic" outline of what the school's religious instruction programme is.

"We have very little views until we get the response from the community."

Mr Bennett, an intermediate school teacher, said he and his wife had initially let his daughter Emily, now aged 11, attend the Bible lessons, to expose her to differing beliefs. But he said that changed about two years ago after Emily was told she would go to hell when stating during a lesson that she did not believe in God.

Churches Education Commission chief executive Simon Greening said his organisation had very clear guidelines for teachers, and such a statement was not acceptable.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 19 Apr 2014 17:44:28 Processing Time: 510ms