John Bisset / Stuff
Children can no longer learn the Bible in school unless their parents or guardians give them permission to do so. (File photo)
Parents and guardians now have the power to enroll their children in religious education by following amendments to the Education and Training Act.
Under the old law, parents or guardians had to write to the school if they did not want their child to attend religious education.
As of August 1 this has changed and now all students are automatically excluded from classes unless they register.
Religious instruction is when a particular religion or faith is taught in school or privileged.
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The law applies to public primary and middle schools. It does not apply to public secondary schools, public integrated schools or private schools.
The amendment caused a rift within the Secular Education Network (SEN), which was behind a decision to completely ban religious education in schools.
The High Court case against the attorney general was due to be heard in October.
He has long argued that the previous law strongly promoted Christianity and marginalized all other religions.
But the opt-in clause changed some group members’ minds and ultimately drop the case, ending the six-year legal battle just weeks before it was heard.
Other members felt it did not go far enough and wanted the new law to address chaplains in schools, Christian educators, discrimination, Christianized karakia and a broader definition of what means secular education.
When the bill was considered by the special committee, most of the writers who commented on religion in schools were in favor of an optional approach.
The education ministry said it was not collecting data on the number of schools currently offering religious education.
Religious instruction is not permitted while the school is open for instruction.
Neither do religious observances, which are measures taken to practice a religion.
This means that chanting prayers and reciting hymns cannot take place during school time either.
However, the new law does not mean that religious education will not be removed entirely from state curricula, said deputy secretary for education system policy Andrea Schöllmann.
“Children would still be taught about different cultures, customs and religions in a neutral way as part of the New Zealand curriculum (NZC) or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMOA), often as part of other subjects, such as than social studies or Tikanga. ā-Iwi, she said.
“The ministry recognizes that the legal framework governing religious education can be difficult to navigate, which is why we have published guidelines that can be found on the ministry’s website.“