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Maxim Institute - real issues


Maxim Institute - real issues - No 219 24 August 2006

www.maxim.org.nz

Losing Our Religion? Reconnecting The Forgotten How Much Do They Know?

In The News: 'Gender Identity' Bill Withdrawn
A New Governor-General For New Zealand
Pay Television Gets A New Code Of Practice

Losing Our Religion?

The place of religion and spiritual values in New Zealand's public life is increasingly being questioned, especially when schools are involved. This week, the Ministry of Education announced that it is preparing guidelines on religion in schools which will be sent to all state primary schools by October. The guidelines will not be binding but will set out the Ministry's interpretation of the law and suggest what practices a school should and should not adopt.

One of the biggest changes proposed in the guidelines is the recommendation that Christian prayers and "Christian-based karakia" should not be permitted at state primary school assemblies, as they may put pressure on pupils to participate. Whilst schools are legally obligated to offer pupils the opportunity to opt-out of religious activities, such as school prayer in assemblies, the guidelines suggest that this may no longer be adequate. They will suggest that any religious activity like this may need to be offered on an opt-in basis, similar to the way pupils have to sign up for a sports team or the school band.

Whilst the Education Act sets out that the "teaching" at a state primary school should be "entirely of a secular nature", New Zealand amended its law in 1962 to ensure that state primary schools could close any class or the entire school for the purposes of "religious instruction" for up to an hour a week. The law is clear that this is to be voluntary for all pupils.

The Ministry has stressed that the guidelines are merely advice and that schools still have freedom to make their own decisions. However, former Principal and current MP, Allan Peachey, has said that the guidelines may make it too difficult for schools to continue with religious activities.

This would be a great loss for schools and for New Zealand in general. The proposed guidelines fail to recognise that education is about far more than just facts and figures; it is about developing children into well-rounded and responsible citizens with an awareness of their own history. For millennia, religion has helped society grapple with complicated issues, and its long history has much to offer. Schools need to retain the freedom to reflect their community's values and uphold their established traditions, including those of a religious nature. Prayer in assembly is, in many cases, an important part of a school culture; reminding pupils of their school's history and the virtues and traditions that it was built on.

RECONNECTING THE FORGOTTEN

When we think of families, our tendency is often to think of mum, dad and the kids. Maybe sole parents and grandparents too. But men living alone don't have such a claim on our attention. A new Salvation Army report suggests that these men are forgotten.

Released this week, the report titled Forgotten People: Men on Their Own, involved a survey and focus groups of single men using social services. It found that large numbers of men living alone face not only loneliness and isolation, but other problems such as relationship and mental health issues; addiction (61 percent); unemployment (87 percent); and criminal convictions (63 percent). They are more likely to have limited qualifications, have difficulty with the welfare system, and be unable to find permanent housing.

The report highlights anew the complexity of human beings and relationships. Many of the problems these men face arise from their disconnectedness from society. They lack vital information and often find it hard to reconnect, facing barriers when it comes to employment. People, all kinds of people, find themselves isolated from society for a huge number of reasons, and the solutions will vary based on the person and what they need.

The report relays heart-rending stories of relationships breaking down and speaks of the loneliness that often follows. The report challenges us to consider how we can tailor welfare, as much as possible, to the recipient's individual circumstances. We need to look more deeply at reintegration programmes, access to mental health and other services, and at what we can do to help men alone reconnect with the society which so often rejects them.

The report quotes General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, who said in 1890:"There has never been any attempt to treat them [the poor] as human beings, to deal with them as individuals... They are simply units, no more thought of and cared for than if they were so many coffee beans passing through a coffee mill... I must assert that anything which dehumanises the individual, anything which treats a man as if he were only a number, or a cog in a wheel, without any regard to the character, the aspirations, the temptations, and the idiosyncrasies of the man, must utterly fail as a remedial agency."

General Booth is right, remedial agencies must start with people, and not systems, and treat people as their dignity dictates; as human beings, with differing and individual needs.

To read the report, Forgotten People: Men on Their Own, please visit:

www.salvationarmy.org.nz

HOW MUCH DO THEY KNOW?

We often lament the ignorance of "the youth of today" when it comes to their knowledge of current affairs, and the latest Listener gives us more to worry about.

The Listener tested 14 and 15 year olds, and disturbingly, found that: "Just 32% could correctly name Winston Peters in the foreign affairs role, and 39% knew John Howard was Australia's leader." Other worrying answers included the suggestion that "kiwibank" was the name of a New Zealand political party and that Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of Australia. Perhaps the most encouraging finding was that young people do seem to have a desire to engage with what is happening, "78% of children said that they followed the news at least once a week."

Although outrageous answers to surveys make for an amusing read, there is a serious side to the Listener's findings. In a democracy, the decisions that are made reflect the level of knowledge, and the discernment of the people. Having an awareness of the basics of New Zealand's political processes, and how they work, is vital if people are to make informed decisions.

The dearth of education in this area has long been a concern, causing the Inquiry to Review New Zealand's Existing Constitutional Arrangements to comment in their report last year: "...we add our voice to those who call for greater concentration on civics and citizenship education in our schools-a call also supported by the judges we met with. Providing young people with the knowledge they need to become informed and engaged citizens continues to need greater emphasis." Hopefully, that call will be heeded, before these young people cast their first vote.

IN THE NEWS

'GENDER IDENTITY' BILL WITHDRAWN

This week Wairarapa MP, Georgina Beyer, announced her intention to withdraw her Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill from the Private Members Ballot. The Bill sought to include "gender identity" as a new category to be protected from discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993. According to Beyer, she is withdrawing the Bill following legal advice from the Solicitor-General which said that transgender individuals are already protected under the current law.

A NEW GOVERNOR-GENERAL FOR NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand's new Governor-General was sworn in on Wednesday. Hon Anand Satyanand, a former judge, is now HM the Queen's personal representative in New Zealand. He is a sign of our connectedness to the Crown, our heritage, traditions and enduring constitutional arrangements. Like, and on behalf of Her Majesty, the Governor-General is "a symbol of national unity and leadership".

In his swearing-in speech, His Excellency spoke of his love for New Zealand, and of the values which bind us together. He said: "Let us with optimism affirm our future. And let us strengthen, foster and encourage trust among the various communities that make up New Zealand. That will make us strong. Our ambition should be... to go forward on the basis of our communities trusting each other - not blindly, but with good judgement and liberal amounts of information, insight, understanding and goodwill."

To read the Governor-General's swearing-in speech, please visit:

www.gg.govt.nz

PAY TELEVISION GETS A NEW CODE OF PRACTICE

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) recently released a new code of practice for pay television, which is governed with fewer restrictions than free-to-air television. According to the BSA, the new code is based on the following four main principles:

Adult viewers should be able to make informed choices with a reasonable prior understanding of what they will see or hear Children and young people are protected from content that may harm or disturb Pay television broadcasters should operate in a socially responsible manner

Freedom of information and expression is respected, and balanced with the requirement to adhere to broadcasting standards.

For more information about the new code of practice and for details on how to make a formal complaint, please visit:

www.bsa.govt.nz

TALKING POINT

"The tides of history have brought us all to these fair shores. We are none of us responsible for those tides, but we are their beneficiaries, privileged to share with one another our diverse inheritances of tradition and culture. We are all part of this land, as it is part of us. In it, we all belong together." The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand, 1996 - 2001

ENDS

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