Concerns are being raised that all religious symbolism could
be abolished from schools following the removal of Bible
studies from an Auckland school timetable.
Some parents are worried that New Zealand could follow the
lead of France, and enforce a strict secular educational
It comes two weeks after St Heliers School announced it would
move its Christian religious education programme (CRE) to
outside school hours following complaints to the Human Rights
A number of parents at the school are now up in arms over the
decision, which they say goes against the majority opinion
and was undertaken without proper consultation with the
National MP for Tamaki, Simon O'Connor, said he had been
regularly stopped in the streets of his constituency by
concerned parents since the decision was made public on
"My primary concern is, what does this ultimately mean? If
you take the negative line, which is to remove programmes
from schools on religious grounds, what's the next step, what
does that mean for the use of say, karakia or grace in
schools, and other spiritual expressions," he said.
"Is the Secular [Education] Network going to ask for that,
and ultimately are they advocating for the adoption of the
French secular model, which is where you can't have any
religious expression, no yarmulkes of the Jewish tradition,
no Christian crosses."
Many parents felt the school had "gone against the majority
will and without full consultation" to make its decision, he
Parent Rachel Trimble agreed, quoting a school survey which
showed 68 per cent of parents in favour of the CRE programme.
Around "a couple of hundred" people were unhappy with the
decision, she said, adding many were of Christian
denominations who wanted their children to have religious
instruction, and keep the school tradition of teaching the
Moving the classes to outside school hours was not a viable
option, she said, because many children already had
extra-curricular commitments which might clash, and staying
late or coming in early would disrupt parents as well as
St Heliers principal Craig McCarthny was adamant the school
was not planning to ban religious or cultural expression from
"Not at all, absolutely not," he said. "The two are not
He later said that it was not the CRE classes themselves, or
their content, that was an issue, but their timing,
reiterating his previous statements that a "crowded"
timetable was the main decider in moving the classes outside
Mr McCarthny assured parents that the school and the board of
trustees had been listening to their feedback since the
decision, and it would influence how the change was rolled
The Secular Education Network, which backed the St Heliers
School families who complained to the HRC, said it was not
promoting a ban on religion.
"We are only campaigning against these particular kind of
religion in schools, where it's a voluntary Christian group
coming in and taking classes," spokesman David Hines, who is
a practising Christian himself, said.
"We are in favour of secular schools, but that doesn't mean
we're anti-religion. It just means [schools] don't give a
particular religion a foothold like that."
- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ