The Ministry of Education has warned it can consider "formal intervention" if Bethlehem College does not remove a line about marriage being between a man and a woman from a statement of belief it asks parents to sign.
The ministry has also revealed it told the college a month ago to remove the line.
The college says it is considering the implications of removing the line, which it added in 2019 and says was intended to be transparent about its beliefs.
The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reported on Saturday that the school had come under fire from LGBTQIA+ advocates who say the line is discriminatory.
The school's Statement of Belief contains 13 points an enrolling student's parent or caregiver must read and acknowledge "that these statements summarise key beliefs of the Christian Education Trust, and underpin the School's Special Character".
The last point is: "Marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship intended for life, and that marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations."
The ministry said this point was added without its knowledge and "must be removed".
Ministry of Education Te Tai Whenua (central) hautu (leader) Jocelyn Mikaere said this was because it was an additional statement to what was included in the Integration Agreement.
The school entered into this agreement – then called the "Deed of Integration" - with the Education Minister in September 1999. It included a 12-point Statement of Belief.
Any proposed changes or additions to the agreement needed to be considered by the minister's delegate, Mikaere said.
Mikaere said the ministry was first made aware the statement differed from the agreement when Tauranga pride advocate Gordy Lockhart made a complaint.
She said the ministry met the college's principal, board of trustees presiding member, and the deputy chair of the Christian Education Trust last month and advised them to remove the point.
Information about the ministry's "Statutory Intervention Framework" was then emailed to all parties, which was acknowledged, she said.
The ministry was "actively" seeking a response from both boards, and was expecting an answer to the request following the board and trust meetings this month.
"If the school does not remove Point 13, the ministry can consider a formal intervention."
Asked what the formal intervention would be, Mikaere said the ministry would "consider what its intervention level may be" after the college responded.
Bethlehem College board of trustees chairman Paul Shakes said the school continued to hold mainstream Christian beliefs, including around marriage, "because we believe they lead to human wellbeing and flourishing".
He said the point about the school's view on marriage was added to the statement in early 2019, "so that we could be fully open and transparent about our beliefs as other views of marriage emerged".
It was important to the school that parents who chose to enrol their children had a "genuine chance to understand who we are".
He said the school was founded to provide a Bible-based, Christian education, which was why parents chose to enrol their children, he said.
"We, therefore, need to keep this in consideration while working through the Ministry's request."
"We have hope and faith that we will be able to resolve this situation in a way that honours and respects the Ministry and our school community, and we're actively working towards this."
He said the belief was not intended to tell anyone what they were required to believe but to transparently explain what they believed.
He said it respected the process with the Ministry and had been working through their request in "good faith," while considering the implications of removing it.
"We appreciate that, for some, a Christian understanding of marriage can feel personally hurtful. Our message to those people is that our intention is certainly not to be hurtful."
He said the school believed God loved them and wanted "only the absolute best for them".
He said it respected how others chose to live, including their views on marriage, and asked that its views were respected.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Zealand since 2013.
Tauranga pride advocate Gordy Lockhart told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend he viewed the line as "discriminatory" and against the Marriage Amendment Act which enabled couples to marry regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
He believed it could contribute to "significant" mental health issues in young people.
LGBTQIA+ youth charity InsideOUT also called for the line to be removed, believing it sent a "blanket message of unacceptance" to rainbow students and those questioning how they identified.
But Free Speech Union spokesman Jonathan Ayling said yesterday that special character schools "must be allowed to use their free speech" and list their Statements of Belief in accordance with their beliefs.
In his view: "Accusations of intolerance and discrimination" due to special character schools listing their Statement of Belief "threatens to undermine the free speech of these institutions."
He believed calls to undermine this right would set a problematic precedent for other communities with minority views on many issues.
He said participation in these institutions was not forced on anyone and their right to express distinct views is part of the very purpose of their special status.
"Most Kiwis may not agree with the values outlined by special character schools ... yet, respect for the rights of others to believe must be extended to each of these claims, even if the majority doesn't share them.
He said, in his view, opposition to the "rights of others to believe" revealed the "censorious and intolerant standards of many who would silence speech they disagree with".
"The Ministry of Education must respect the right for special character schools to list their values and expectations openly."