NZ Herald 13 February 2014
What a divine irony. At the same time that remnants of the country’s first mission school were being excavated in Kerikeri, St Heliers School decided to remove religious education classes from its school day – part of a slow but seemingly inexorable trend to purge Christianity from the remaining crevices where it is found in our state institutions.
It seems that the aggressive moral outrage from the serious-sounding Secular Education Network was sufficient for the St Heliers School’s Board of Trustees to capitulate on the long tradition of Bible in Schools. This is how far we have come, as a nation, in two centuries: from all the schools in the country being organised by various Christian denominations (first Anglican and Methodists, and later Catholics) to the insistence that no Christian instruction at all be permitted in our state schools, and that to do otherwise becomes an urgent matter of human rights.
On the surface, the arguments for removing Bible in Schools seem sensible, even noble. The separation of church and state is a worthy principle, the role of schools is not to indoctrinate pupils, and as we live in a much more diverse society than in previous generations, those professing different faiths (and indeed, those with no faith) deserve equal respect.
Of course, looking over the curriculum for Bible in Schools, what is most striking is how entirely innocuous it is – so much so that it makes its critics appear self-righteous and doctrinaire. However, the emphasis of those opposed to Bible in Schools seems to be on the absolutism of individual rights as an abstract dogma, ignoring in the process the strong historical and cultural legacy of Christianity in our state schools.