Few topics around education prompt more frisson than religious instruction in state schools.
And here we go again. Political editor Audrey Young reports this week that it may be the beginning of the end for religious lessons at primary schools. Under new laws tabled by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, parents will be required to give explicit permission in writing for their children to receive religious instruction at state schools. Under this provision, a lack of responses will lead to less instructions - a sort of law of diminishing returns.
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Hipkins told the Herald he believes in secular education and doesn't believe schools should be offering religious instruction. Like all of us, he is entitled to his view, but many will disagree. Wisely, he adds: "We need a bit more of a national conversation ... before we get into that."
The law change - included in the Education and Training Bill which passed its first reading just before Christmas - will require the written consent of parents for their children to attend religious instruction. It is, of course, but one of many changes proposed in the bill. But it is one which will generate much debate.
It may surprise some to hear that parental permission for religious studies already exists. Under guidelines released by the Ministry of Education in May 2019, schools are already advised to get the written consent of parents. The change in the Education and Training Bill however, will make this act mandatory.
Just how many students are affected is still not known, but it is thought to be up to 25 per cent. The Churches Education Commission, which has been rebranded as Launchpad, is the largest provider of religious training in schools and in 2018 it operated in about a quarter of all state primary schools, or 520.
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The commission has also said it already encourages schools to be vigilant in obtaining consent of parents, either at the time of a child's enrolment or through signed permission slips at the start of each school year.
Perhaps exemplifying the heat generated around the matter, a group called the Secular Education Network is taking a case to the High Court in a bid to get religious instruction in schools declared a breach of the Bill of Rights Act.
Spokesman Mark Honeychurch says: "Our primary schools are not the place for religious instruction, but we've always had this loophole in the law that enables church members to come in and talk to our children about Christianity; about God, Jesus, heaven and hell."
To stretch this viewpoint to an outrageous end, would it be preferable for schools to deny religion exists?
Ultimately, religious studies should be taught in schools - if parents and schools wish it. The mandatory written permission is an eminently sensible provision and ensures proper consideration has been given to the wishes of guardians and institutions. Transparency is key.
Parents can choose to opt in, or do nothing and opt out. Or to enrol their child in another school.