"Keep Religion Out of Schools" …. unless it’s my Religion

This morning, I read the article entitled “Kids ‘punished’ for opting out of bible class” over on the TVNZ news site.

I have met Peter Harrison and respect him greatly. He has done (and, no doubt, continues to do) many excellent things for the Free/Libre Software movement in NZ. A man with wonderful debating skills – and a passion for what he believes in.

I must admit, I also thought him to be a much more rational man than the above article would suggest.

Surely if a child is feeling ‘punished’ when opting out of any class – be it religious, sport or whatever the context – that should be the responsibility of the school to correct, rather than whoever is running the programme being opted out of? Should the facilitators of said programme provide the 2nd class for those who’s parents have opted them out? Would those parents not also protest that class?

But no, the answer – as presented by the comments in the above article – is to cancel the programme entirely. To me, this shows some larger motive underlying the comments rather than what you might expect – which is evidenced by Peter’s Facebook group.

The larger issue appears to be that having the option to opt-out of something we don’t agree with is no longer enough – we now have to campaign to have that which doesn’t line up with our beliefs, expunged entirely from existence. This harks back to many nasty periods of mankind’s history (some – though not all, and certainly not as many as popularly portrayed – perpetuated in the name of God).

I am certainly not accusing Peter himself of wanting these periods of history repeated, but that does seem the common end to this train of thinking.

(For what it’s worth, I find it surprising that any biblically based teaching would say that “dinosaurs don’t exist” – there are, in fact, many references to ‘dinosaur’ like creatures in God’s “archaic document”.)

[EDIT 5th Feb 2014: Gosh, this certainly generated some interesting comments. I had thought the title of this post was self-explanatory but it appears easily twisted to mean something else. Of course, I was referring to the Secular-Humanism religion which is obviously not the focus of being kept out of schools.

Anyways, I decided to leave all the comments and not delete any of them as I think they tell a good story. There was even one on the Facebook group page from someone saying ‘look – this guy says he’s a Christian – he obviously has an ulterior motive!’. Ironic.

Also, many thanks to Peter for his well reasoned and logical comment – which I mostly agree with – in which he was able to expand on what the media was presenting.]

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9 thoughts on “"Keep Religion Out of Schools" …. unless it’s my Religion

  1. If you want to teach your children about your religion, then you're free to do it on your own time. At home, at church, sunday school, youth groups, camps and so on.
    No one rational wants Christianity “expunged” forceably from all facets of society. It's just that your religion is yours – don't shove it down other peoples' childrens' throats in what is meant to be a non-divisive secular school environment.
    If you want your kids to learn about Christianity then educate them about it outside of school, thus respecting the fact that not all parents want their kids to be taught about/taught as truth/indoctrinated with Christianity. Why is that such an unreasonable request to make?

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  2. Hello Melissa – thank you for your comment.

    I completely agree that we should be free to teach our children our own beliefs – whatever they may be – in our own homes and on our own time.

    I'm also glad that you feel no rational person wants an expungement of Christianity – perhaps it's just the irrational that are working towards that end with, among other things, a type of historical revisionism.

    I can confidently confirm that I do not shove my beliefs down others throats, and I respect those of differing beliefs who also do not.

    I believe that there already is respect shown for those parents who do not want their kids to attend to the Christian programme given that they can opt their children out – as with any school programme which one does not wish their children to attend (whether for reasons of belief, ability, illness or whatever).

    My issue – and the point of my post – is that a programme is being blamed for the way a school is handling those children who have been opted out.

    This is what seems irrational. Let's change the scenario a little – say a parent opted their child out of a sex-education class and their child felt they'd been punished when removed from the class. It would be irrational for that parent to then call for the cancellation of the class so that their child would not feel punished.

    To call a programme which is volunteer run & funded, consists of 30-45 minutes per week and costs the school nothing “indoctrination” seems, to me, to be a rather large exaggeration.

    To call for it's cancellation because one doesn't agree – especially when the right to opt-out already exists – seems much more of an unreasonable throat shoving method to me. It also ignores the fact that there are two other groups of parents – those who want their children to attend such a programme, and those who really don't mind at all.

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  3. As usual it is difficult to get a true idea of our position from a few lines in an article. The quotes are of course accurate, but do not address the depth of argument we make.

    First of all we believe in freedom of religion. We may not believe in your religion, but will defend your right to believe what you wish without the interference of the state.

    The current system is essentially an endorsement of and support of Christianity by the state. The “Opt out” approach allows schools to teach children Bible class without informing parents. The first thing many parents know about it is their children coming home telling them about it.

    There is no obligation on the schools to gain informed consent from parents. This means children of all other faiths, including no faith at all, are being subjected to indoctrination without consent from parents.

    Often opting out means being seen as excluded by classmates. Parents are fully aware of the psychological impact on children of this age to exclusion, and for this reason will be put in a position of permitting it to continue or making their child feel excluded and punished. It is a position we should not be putting any parent in.

    Christian parents have every opportunity to teach their children their values through Sunday school, at home and even specialist schools. By having this in otherwise secular it is state sponsored imposition of religion. It is discriminatory in that no other religion outside Christianity is permitted to come in and teach at these times.

    With regard to my work in OSS – essentially I am standing up for the same values – for freedom. Over the last year I have heard many stories about the true situation – of harassment and anger directed at parents who choose to opt out. This has resulted in parents removing children from schools. There is very real harm being done.

    Most parents are not prepared to stand up because they are afraid for what it may mean for their children.

    All this said, I retain a good relationship with many Christians in my life, including many people in the NZOSS whom I respect greatly. This is not an attack on Christianity, but rather a position that we should treat all religions equally.

    Regards,
    Peter Harrison

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  4. It seems to me you've already asked the pertanent question in the title (although you've failed to answer or address it in any way)…

    So tell us: Would you still be so keen on relgious classes during school time if it were muslim volunteers teaching and promoting the tenants and beliefs of Islam?

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  5. We want to remove religious indoctrination from schools. Religious Education, learning about religion and its cultural influence on history and contemporary issues is encouraged. Preaching to children is not. The fact that a school had to pretend to be closed to be legally allowed to conduct these “classes” must signal a major alarm bell?

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  6. I love the way Donkey pulls out the persecuted Christian martyr complex. Boo-hoo.

    “…we now have to campaign to have that which doesn't line up with our beliefs, expunged entirely from existence. This harks back to many nasty periods of mankinds history”.

    Expunged from existence? Nasty periods of mankind existence? You've got to be kidding me.

    You are complaining that because we say it is wrong for Christians to co-opt a regular chunk of school time to proselytise to our kids, that you are thereby oppressed?

    Give me a @#$%ing break!!!

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  7. Again, Christians re-frame a call for fairness as 'persecution' and wiping Christianity from History. I think you protest too much.
    55% of NZ kids are not religious, yet you think it appropriate they sit in the library doing nothing for 1 week of the year while the substantial cost of running the entire school is devoted to Church recruitment.
    You say don't blame the program, blame the school. The school says blame the law, the Education Ministry says blame the School Board. The supporters say our complaints are 'one offs' don't complain, yet the reports of discrimination continue to mount.
    Guess what – we're sick of being fobbed off. We are removing the core problem, the 'Nelson' loophole that subverts the secular nature of our schools by allowing them to pretend to 'close' during normal school hours for evangelizing children.

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  8. When my daughter came home telling us about the Religious Instruction that she had at school (without our knowledge!) I was shocked. I thought it is 2010! Surely this must be illegal!

    But some investigation of the education Act 1964 revealed what is now called the “Nelson Clause”, which allowed our daughters classroom to closed for Religious Indoctrination during the middle of the school day.

    A lot of people I talk to are shocked that it is still legal in this modern age of multiculturalism and Human Rights. Time for section 78 of the education act 1964 to be a thing of the past.

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