The Devil's in the Detail: The Coherence of Opt-Out Religious Instruction in Modern New Zealand State Primary Schools

38 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2020

See all articles by Portia Baine

Portia Baine

Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Law, Student/Alumni

Date Written: September 2, 2019

Abstract

Sections 78 and 79 of the Education Act 1964 create the religious instruction "opt-out scheme" whereby otherwise secular state primary schools can close to allow for religious instruction and observances. Despite perpetual controversy, the scheme has remained untouched for 57 years. With Hines v AG awaiting its hearing in the High Court, this hands-off approach is no longer sustainable. This essay examines the history of the opt-out scheme and its present incoherencies, uncovering a scheme which is deeply informed by the societal context and competing interests under which it operates. Changes to state education in past decades have resulted in the opt-out scheme allowing more than simply bible-in-schools into classrooms. The scheme has become a gateway for aspects of tikanga Māori where the line between the spiritual and the cultural is not clear cut. Thus, in a reform debate publicly and politically saturated by the religious–secular divide, in reality the greatest threat exists in relation to Māori. This article concludes that while the opt-out scheme's incoherence means reform is necessary, simply replacing the scheme would fundamentally threaten the position of tikanga Māori in schools. In this way, reform can only be done in full partnership with Māori as a key stakeholder.

Keywords: Education Act 1964, religious instruction, opt-out, tikanga Maori

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Baine, Portia, The Devil's in the Detail: The Coherence of Opt-Out Religious Instruction in Modern New Zealand State Primary Schools (September 2, 2019). Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 32/2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3623585 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3623585

Portia Baine (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Law, Student/Alumni ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, Victoria 6140
New Zealand

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