By TIM WATKIN
Shortly after 11am on February 6, 1840, Bishop Pompallier approached Captain William Hobson on the lawn at Waitangi, just as 500 Maori were set to sign the treaty.
He asked that "the natives might be informed that all who should join the Catholic religion should have the protection of the British government".
Given the dominance of the Anglican missions in New Zealand at the time, Pompallier was trying to ensure a level religious playing ground where he could compete for the souls of Maori on equal terms.
Hobson agreed, "with much blandness of expression", Anglican missionary Henry Williams notes dryly in his memoirs. He tried to dissuade Hobson, saying he assumed such protection would be afforded to all and need not be spelt out.
Hobson concurred, but said the chiefs present should still be told of his commitment. He wanted the treaty signed without delay and didn't want last-minute religious squabbles getting in the way. Williams, a reluctant interpreter of the promise, struggled to find the Maori words.
" ... It was somewhat of a tough morsel", he records, and instead took a few moments to write the words out. Pointedly, he put the Catholics last and included Maori beliefs, translated as "ritenga", in the list; "an inclusion arising from sectarian jealousy", as historian Claudia Orange writes in Treaty of Waitangi.
When Pompellier agreed to the sentence, Williams read it out: "The Governor wishes you to understand that all the Maories who shall join the Church of England, who shall join the Wesleyans, who shall join the Pikipo or Church of Rome, and those who retain their Maori practices, shall have the protection of the British Government."
It is this promise that in recent decades has been called by some the fourth article of the treaty; a commitment to religious freedom made at the birth of the new nation.
Yet this week, National Party leader Bill English, a Catholic, has come out railing against what he sees as Maori attempts to twist the "fourth article" to their own ends.
Like Williams, he has found Hobson's promise a tough morsel to swallow.
In a speech to the Gore Rotary Club entitled "The Treaty Grows Another Leg", English said "there is pressure to extend the treaty itself. For 163 years the treaty has had three articles - now there's a fourth article and it's official.
"The Waitangi Tribunal recently announced it will hear a claim based on article four of the treaty ... A guarantee of religious freedom for everyone has been turned into a Trojan horse for just Maori indigenous beliefs".
While the speech is the latest attempt by English to make treaty settlement a point of difference between the two main parties, it has foundered on his misunderstanding of both history and modern claims.
Historians have been quick to downplay English's disquiet. Orange describes this week's debate as "a storm in a teacup". She says the promise, while important, must be put in context. It is "part of a whole cluster" of oral explanations that were made at the 50 or so meetings held around the country to gather signatures to the treaty. It was also added hurriedly and not thought through.
Massey University historian Peter Lineham, who specialises in religious history, says Hobson's commitment is legally unenforceable but has moral weight. A promise is a promise, and if it's to an audience with an oral tradition, an oral promise is as good as a written one.
It is important, too, he adds, because it's the only time in the 19th century that the British gave indigenous beliefs the same weight as Christianity. The phrase "fourth article" was first used in the late 1970s by churches in a wave of treaty education among congregations. It was often said that the promise of religious freedom was so important it was "almost like a fourth article". That, says Lineham, is too strong.
"It's a genuine promise that's part of the legacy of the treaty, but it's not a formal article."
And, as Orange points out, religious freedom is now legally guaranteed to all under the Bill of Rights.
Lineham is amazed by English's outburst, given it was his Catholic forefathers who first wanted and benefited from the promise. He says the promise is no fresh discovery or "new leg", and English should know better. (For that matter, so should Prime Minister Helen Clark who, when first challenged on the "fourth article" this week replied, "never heard of it").
"The man's a Catholic. He's one of the ones who demanded the protection and got it," says Lineham. "It's a statement of religious freedom that protects all religious traditions, therefore it can't give a special protection to Maori."
English was also wrong to say there is a claim before the Waitangi Tribunal based on "article four". There is not. The "claim" he is referring to was a submission by Anglican Archdeacon Harvey Ruru before the tribunal in January as part of the Te Atiawa claim over their tribal lands at the top of the South Island. Ruru said the Crown had not kept Hobson's promise and it should fund Maori priests to continue their faith traditions.
In response, tribunal member and historian Keith Sorrenson said Ruru's evidence was "the most important claim that has come before the tribunal about the relationship between church and state".
But Sorrenson questioned its place in the Atiawa claim, saying it would be better dealt with in a separate claim brought by all Maori. The Anglican Church since 1978 has made constitutional changes to give Maori more power and resources in line with a commitment to treaty partnership, but Ruru says the Maori tikanga, or wing of the church, is under-resourced and due for compensation for its lack of protection between 1840 and the 1970s.
In the Nelson district, there are no Maori parish priests and only one Maori church, held on a marae. Ruru says the ordained priests who minister there on Sundays work "in fish factories or in the orchards during the week or rely on koha" to survive.
Bishop of Auckland Richard Randerson says because of declining funds, many parishes, not just Maori ones, are unable to pay priests and rely on volunteers.
Tribunal director Morrie Love has said Ruru's concerns are "not about Maori cultural issues ... but to do with the Anglican church". Yet Ruru insists his grievance is with the Crown, which promised to "protect" Maori religious practices.
He believes the treaty promises - not just "article four", but the promise to protect toanga in article two - means the Government should fund Maori priests. In practice, he says Hobson's promise also obliges the Government to fund hospital and prison chaplaincies and Bible in Schools.
The quirk here is that many in the Gore Rotary Club would likely support that. But Lineham challenges Ruru's belief that Government funding is being eroded.
Bible in Schools has never been state-funded and "state support for the church has actually grown since the end of World War II, with the creation of chaplaincies".
Health Minister Annette King says Government funding of hospital chaplaincies is static at $1.5 million and doesn't believe the treaty obliges her to find more money.
"I see it as an obligation to provide for patients' spiritual needs. I don't see it as [a treaty obligation]."
Hobson's promise was "to protect". To Ruru that means funding. But Lineham says "that's drawing a long bow". What it guaranteed was freedom - to preach and to believe.
Tribunal member and historian Michael Bassett believes Ruru is trying to "expand the treaty" and he's not the first to use Hobson's promise to do so. In 1985 when Minister of Health he was criticised on a marae by Titewhai Harawira, who argued he was obliged under "article four" to improve Maori healthcare.
Most importantly, perhaps, Ruru's submission raises profound and - given global religious tensions - fraught issues about the separation of church and state. Ruru says such separation is a fallacy. While he agrees neither Hobson, Williams nor Pompellier wanted to override the church-state separation in Europe in the 1830s, he says Hobson's promise to protect believers binds state and religion.
"Because of the treaty, they have a duty not to be separate."
While stressing that he speaks only for the Pakeha tikanga, Randerson responds: "From a gospel point of view, the freedom of the church to express its view without any state constraint is significant."
He says the church receives Government monies for social services, but not for ministry, and doing so could "be threatening to the independence of the church".
The irony is that if Ruru's claim is considered by the tribunal, the central concern will not, as English suggests, be one of Maori privilege, it will be the freedom of the church - the very principle Hobson's promise was intended to protect.
By TIM WATKIN