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Archbishops say prayer guidelines inappropriate

For immediate release September 3, 2006

Anglican Archbishops say prayer guidelines are inappropriate

New Zealand’s Anglican Archbishops have challenged State educational moves which they say will prejudice parents’ rights to influence the shaping of children’s spirituality and values.

This follows reports that the Ministry of Education will soon release new guidelines to state primary and intermediate schools, and their boards of trustees, which will have the effect of suppressing or inhibiting prayers, readings, or hymns at these school’s assemblies.

Senior officers from the Ministry of Education recently presented a paper to Parliament’s Education and Science Select Committee entitled: Religious instruction and observances in state schools.

In this paper, the ministry gives notice of new guidelines that will advise schools to make subtle but significant shifts in the way religious observance is included in state primary and intermediate schools. The guidelines are to be published within a couple of months.

Up till now the rights of parents (and their children) had been protected by an “opt-out” provision – allowing children to not attend or to leave school gatherings where prayers and hymns were said.

The ministry is now proposing an “opt-in” arrangement, whereby schools would have to give advance notice of assemblies where prayers and hymns were to be offered. Parents would have to give written consent for their children to attend.

Furthermore, teachers and principals will be cautioned not to lead prayers and hymns themselves – for fear that this might suggest to students that taking part is compulsory. Teachers would also be advised to shun all these “whole-of-school instruction or observances” in case children feel “indirect pressure to participate.”

But the two New Zealand-based Anglican Archbishops, Brown Turei and David Moxon, say the proposed advice shows the state being unnecessarily prescriptive.

They say that “opt-in” provisions are already in place, through the powers and responsibilities given to democratically elected school boards of trustees. The new advice – of a second “opt-in” – therefore undermines these elected boards of trustees.

The Archbishops say the philosophy that underpinned the Tomorrow’s School reforms of the 90s aimed, in part, to devolve power and responsibilities to boards of trustees, thereby giving them scope to determine the character of their schools so they reflect the communities they serve.

The Archbishops say the ministry’s proposed guidelines cut across this intention, in the name of protecting schools against a modest and unspecified number of complaints from some parents.

Archbishop Moxon notes that there is already legal provision for “closing” schools so that Bible in Schools can be offered “out of hours” – thereby respecting the secular requirement for teaching at this level. Prayers and hymns also could be offered at assemblies which schools designate as “out of hours”.

“The fundamental principle”, says Archbishop Moxon, “is that a young child is, to some extent, under the mantle of its parents. As parents, we have the right to choose which values and spirituality we will open them to, or encourage them to experience.

“That right of parental influence is protected now through the boards of trustees – which may choose to have out-of-school-hours assemblies with prayers and hymns.”

The Archbishops also say the proposed guidelines risk being inconsistent and contradictory, because while effectively suppressing prayer and hymns, they will not discourage karakia.

The Archbishops say that standard karakia, as used by kaumatua throughout Aotearoa, commonly contain specific Judaeo-Christian references.

Archbishop Brown Turei, who has Whanau-a-Apanui and Ngati Porou ties, and whose first language is Maori, cites specific examples:

- “E Te Atua kaha rawa, te kaihanga o nga mea katoa. (‘Almighty God, maker of everything.’)

- “E To Matou Matua i te Rangi, te Arepa, me te Omeka. (‘Our Father in Heaven, the Alpha and the Omega.’)

- “E Ihowa, manaakitia mai...” (‘O Jehovah, send your blessing...’)

Archbishop Turei says karakia often end with statements such as:

- “Ko Ihu Karaiti hoki to Matou Ariki, amine… (Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, amen.)

- “I runga i te ingoa o Te Matua, Te Tama, me Te Wairua Tapu, amine.” (In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.)

Archbishop Turei says that he has never heard karakia and himene endorse a specific denomination or religious organization.

“You would not hear kaumatua say: ‘That karakia was Anglican, and I hope you think seriously about becoming Anglican.’ Maori would not do that.”

“And neither would Pakeha who are offering prayers and hymns in English in our schools,” says Archbishop Moxon.

Footnote: The Archbishops’ statement has been endorsed by all the New Zealand-based Anglican bishops. From north to south they are:

+ Kito Pikaahu, Pihopa ki te Tai Tokerau
+ John Paterson, Bishop of Auckland
+ Richard Randerson, Asst Bishop of Auckland
+ Winston Halapua, Bishop for the Diocese of Polynesia in Aotearoa New Zealand
+ Philip Richardson, Bishop in Taranaki
+ John Bluck, Bishop of Waiapu
+ Tom Brown, Bishop of Wellington
+ Muru Walters, Pihopa ki te Upoko o Te Ika
+ Derek Eaton, Bishop of Nelson
+ David Coles, Bishop of Christchurch
+ John Gray, Pihopa ki te Waipounamu
+ George Connor, Bishop of Dunedin


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