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Simon Bridges says it would be 'a shame to lose' religious instruction in state schools

With the Ministry of Education proposing a more rigorous set of guidelines for religious instruction in state schools, and a group of secular parents fighting to end the practice altogether, it may soon be a thing of the past.

That would be a shame, Opposition leader Simon Bridges told TVNZ1's Breakfast today.

"I think it's definitely part of our heritage," he said. "I think we want to shy away from both extremes. If you're a parent there and you don't want your child being a part of it, I get that.

"But also it would be a shame to lose that entirely."

Mr Bridges said in the "spirit of Christmas and bipartisanship" he acknowledges the Ministry of Education guidelines, which if approved will go into effect next year, are a good idea.

They would require schools offering religious instruction to perform safety checks on volunteers, have education alternatives for children who don't participate and switch from an opt-out system to a opt-in with signed consent from parents.

"Wherever you sit, that will kind of give all schools a robust legal framework to which they work," he said.

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Some parents are seeing red, and it’s parting schoolyard relationships. Source: Seven Sharp

But a group of parents calling themselves the Secular Education Network wants religious instruction permanently banned in state schools, arguing that it promotes religious favouritism. When religion is taught in schools, it should be in an academic and objective way - instead of schools being given free reign to "teach the way to live is to be Christian and the Bible is true", group spokesperson Tanya Jacob recently told RNZ.

The group's complaint, initially filed with the Human Rights Commission, is set to be heard by the High Court.

Mr Bridges, whose father was a Baptist minister, said today he would prefer a system that continues to allow religious education with the ability to opt out.

"If you're sitting there and you say, 'I don't want little Johnny to be part of that,' that's OK," he said.

But when asked by Breakfast host Jack Tame whether he would be OK with Islam instruction in public schools, Mr Bridges hesitated.

"Ultimately you would say that is not part of our heritage," he said. "New Zealand today is probably for the most part a secular society...

"Christianity is ultimately much more part of our longstanding history coming from Britain and the like."

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A group of secular parents are campaigning to end the practice. Source: Breakfast