The provider of Bible studies at almost 700 public schools will argue in court today for the right to be heard in a legal battle over religious studies being taught in state schools.

The Churches Education Commission (CEC) will launch a legal challenge to be allowed to give evidence in a spat between a family who believe their daughter was segregated and humiliated after opting out of religious studies, and the Whangaparaoa school involved.

Around a dozen protesters from the Secular Education Network (SEN) are expected to picket outside the High Court at Auckland in support of the McClintock family, as this morning's hearing kicks off at 10am.

The lawyer representing the family, Richard Francois, is also seeking to repeal Section 78 of the Education Act, a move which could lead to religious studies being removed from state schools.


Given the potential impact of the legal bid, the commission - the country's single biggest provider of school Bible studies - will argue in the High Court today that it should be able to give evidence supporting the retention of religious teachings.

The legal challenge was launched by the McClintocks after their daughter Violet was made to sit alone in a corner of her Red Beach School's classroom, kneeling on the floor reading a book next to the rubbish bin, after her parents opted for her to sit out religious studies.

Red Beach is not one of the 667 schools CEC provides studies for.

After today's hearing, the High Court is expected to hear Mr Francois' full legal bid later this year.

He will challenge the Education Act's legality, arguing Section 78 was in breach of the Bill of Rights and discriminated against pupils who did not hold Christian beliefs. This section allows schools to close up to an hour a week for religious instruction.

Meanwhile, the Secular Education Network said it has had a boost in membership since news of the hearing was published in the Herald on Sunday last weekend, alongside reports of a religious sex education pamphlet being used in a Christchurch school's health lesson.

About 60 new people joined the network in the 24 hours following publication of the reports, SEN spokesman David Hine said. New members will be among those demonstrating outside the High Court today.