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  • David Hines

Ombudsman investigates delays over religion in schools.

Doing away with religious instruction and replacing it with education about all religions

The Ombudsman’s office is investigating a year-long delay by the Ministry of Education in releasing a report about religion in state schools. The Government commissioned a discussion paper by religious studies Professor Paul Morris (right), to consider doing away with the controversial religious instruction classes, and replacing them with neutral education about New Zealand religions. The professor filed the paper with the Ministry on 9 December last year, and it has been reviewed by the Ministry, but it has still not been signed off by education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Report prompted by the killing of Muslims in Christchurch

I believe this delay is particularly objectionable because the Morris report was prepared as an answer to the religious hostility which led to the killing of 51 Muslims in Christchurch in March 2019. In a letter to me on 9 September 2021, Mr Hipkins said the delay was caused by “other priority work” but I believe that is not an acceptable trade-off. The country needs the discussion about prejudice in state schools, whether the Minister is ready for it or not. The prejudices against Muslims are not going to go away because of the Covid crisis.”

What I asked for; why the Ministry said no.

I applied for a copy of the Morris report under the Official Information Act on 2 February this year. In a letter dated 2 March 2021, the Ministry refused to release the report, saying this was to protect the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers of the Crown and Officials. On 29 August I lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman, saying Prof Morris was not a Minister of the Crown, nor an official; he was an independent expert. So I said even if the Government rejects some of Prof Morris’s report, the public is still entitled to know what his report said, so they can take action of their own. We urgently need to revise our (secular education) campaign, but we cannot do this without the information provided by Prof Morris.

The Ombudsman investigates

The Ombudsman’s Office tried to resolve the dispute by mediation, and this failed, so on Friday 3 December the Office advised me it is now proceeding to a formal investigation into my complaint.

Muslims could demand action too

I raised this issue with the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ. I believe they, too, will want the Morris report to be given higher priority.

I also intend to raise it with other potential supporters, the Jewish and Buddhist communities, the Secular Education Network, the Humanists, and the Association of Rationalists and Humanists. All these groups have supported secular education in the past. Professor Morris himself is also opposed to religious instruction and prepared countless reports on the religious instruction lesson books as evidence for our court case.

Key documents

  • To see Chris Hipkins' Cabinet paper in October 2019 recommending a conversation about religious education replacing Christian religious instruction classes, click here.

  • To see a copy of my complaint, click here.

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