'Most parents are pretty shocked' - new push to block religious teaching in Kiwi state schools

Parents of students in New Zealand state schools would be "shocked" by the extent of Christian instruction their children were receiving in weekly religion classes, according to the Secular Education Network pressure group.

The Secular Education Network want the government to end religious education in state schools. Source: Breakfast

The Secular Education Network is a group advocating the end of religious teaching in schools, and will today begin a nationwide "school gate campaign" to inform parents of the level of religious instruction in state schools - particularly of a Christian variety.

Speaking this morning on Breakfast, Secular Education Network spokesperson Tanya Jacob said the typical religion classes New Zealand state school students were receiving was no different from a Sunday school lesson at a local church.

"We wish it was education, that could be taught by teachers, but it's not, it's taught by believers from the local church, so this is instruction, religious instruction," Ms Jacob said.

Ms Jacob said religion classes were in 30 to 40 per cent of all New Zealand state primary and intermediate schools, which equated to hundreds of schools.

By law, New Zealand state schools are allowed to hold religious education for an hour a week for a maximum of 20 hours per year, provided a variety of religious beliefs are taught.

The Secular Education Network is trying to get the law repealed that allows this broad religious education in New Zealand state schools.  

However, New Zealand's largest provider of religious education, the Churches Education Commission, has completely dismissed any claims religious indoctrination occurs in state schools. 

"The allegations made by the Secular Education Network in their recent brochure is not at all consistent with how Religious Education is actually delivered in schools," Churches Education Commission Tracy Kirkley said.

Kirkley said religious education in New Zealand schools is taught according to a strict report issued by Human Rights Commission in 2009 outlining appropriate curriculum. 

"If there are any issues where people are not happy, CEC and our teams work directly with the school to address them promptly," says Ms Kirkley.

"Many local schools and communities are very supportive of the programme which has been a part of New Zealand’s heritage for over 140 years. We are there by request." 

As part of the Secular Education Network's "school gate campaign", volunteers of the group will today be handing out fliers at the end of the school day at Wharenui School in Christchurch, and also on hand to answer questions from parents.