Court battle under way to keep Bible studies in schools in New Zealand


The Churches Education Commission (CEC), the provider of Bible studies in more than 660 public schools in New Zealand is filing a legal challenge before the High Court to allow religious studies in the classroom following efforts to remove the subject from state schools.

"It seems only fair that we are allowed to have a say in this important case, which could have many implications," Commission Spokeswoman Debra Hunt said.

According to a report by NZ Herald, the group is expected to appear before the court on Thursday to defend the importance of religious teaching in schools.

The issue stemmed from a complaint filed by Jeff McClintock against the Red Beach school for making his daughter Violet sit on the floor in the corner to read after he opted her out of religious studies.

Richard Francois, the family's lawyer, is now pushing to repeal Section 78 of the Education Act, which he claims is in breach of the Bill of Rights and discriminates against pupils who do not hold Christian beliefs. The section allows schools to use up to an hour a week of class time for religious instruction.

However, he said that students who opt out of religious studies are treated punitively by being made to do menial chores like picking up garbage or doing dishes, prompting students to simply join in the classes for fear of being excluded. 

As Red Beach is not one of 667 schools that the CEC provides service to, Francois expressed scepticism over what the group could add to the argument.

The lawyer further argued that the hour that schools are devoting to religious education undermines children's performances in core subjects.

McClintock argued that religious education should not be included in class time and should be treated instead as an optional extracurricular activity.