When I was in Year 6, we were told that parent permitting, for an hour each Friday, our class would have religious instruction.
It was 1991. I was at Waimairi Primary School and we were learning about Christianity. Each lesson would start with a prayer to God. I occasionally said one – just for participations sake, rather than anything else – and it was always for peace.
Just as I do not now, I did not believe in God then. S/he is a higher being to some, but not I. What others believe in as far as I am concerned is up to them and not me. If they want to invite people to join them in prayer, there is no problem with that. My parents never told me what to believe. And at Waimairi, teachers had to obtain a written permission slip that was sent home with students and had to be signed by their parents or caregiver, permitting them to partake in the class. Those who were not granted permission were sent to the library for its duration.
Apparently religious instruction happens in 600 schools across New Zealand, so it is hardly rare or restricted to just a few places. Nor is it just Catholic or Christian churches that want New Zealand schools to give instruction. There are schools such as Hagley Community College in Christchurch that have a prayer room, mainly used by Muslim students.
My stance on religion is simple and non-negotiable. Believe what you want, but do not force it upon me or anyone else.
It has been an interesting debate. I have been told by Muslims that I am a non-believer and somehow inferior; by Christians and Catholics that I will go to hell for my non belief in a higher being. The creationists among the God based religions have tried to argue with me that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. There is no persuading me on that count – the theory of evolution is very much what I believe in.
Should one take precedence? Absolutely not. New Zealand is supposed to be a tolerant, welcoming and open minded society where anyone – provided they abide by our law and customs – is welcome.
In their own time and way I have seen progress in the Church. It might not like the idea of same sex marriage but at the end of the day, the sun has continued to rise in the east; your teenage daughter if you have one will continue arguing like she knows everything and you will still have to pay tax – in other words life will go on.
So, there is nothing wrong with religion being taught in New Zealand schools as long as no one faith is given precedence. As long as any parent who does not wish their child to be involved in such instruction is given the chance to withdraw them.