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Posted by on Feb 22, 2013 in In the news, Religion | 2 comments

Pushback against NZ scripture classes

Like Australia’s various states, New Zealand makes provision for religious classes in public schools – though in this case it is via a clause that enables the supposedly secular schools to “close” for bible classes in school hours. It’s reported today that the New Zealand system is copping some pushback.

As always, I wonder why a modern secular state with no theological views of its own would provide for religious teaching (as opposed to teaching about the world’s various religious) through its public school system. It is, of course, difficult to reverse a decision that has been made in the past and has much electoral support. Given that this is what has been inherited from previous generations, one secular reason for leaving it alone is the somewhat cynical one of “don’t rock the boat”.

Very well, but it’s also not surprising that these arrangements are meeting with pushback – in some cases it’s a request for modification to provide better for the needs of children who are not religious (i.e. to give them a secular alternative). In other cases it’s outright opposition to arrangements that are clearly anachronistic and can be justified only on cynical grounds. To complicate the situation, scripture classes these days seem more aggressive than when I was in high school in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were considered something of a joke by most students. I’m not sure whether this is true of New Zealand, but in Australia there has been a tendency toward centralising curricula and program delivery in the hands of organisations that seek strongly to evangelise students – it’s no longer so much a matter of local ministers (often relatively liberal Anglican priests) turning up to chat to their nominal parishioners once a week.

Times are changing, and I doubt that these sorts of classes can survive in their traditional form in secular countries like Australia and New Zealand. Nor should they – at bottom, it is not the role of the state to help out religious organisations wanting to proselytise, or to minister to their faithful. Those parents who want to send their children to state schools while also wanting to socialise them into religious teachings are free to do the latter outside of school hours.