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Religious Diversity Statement Sparks Debate

National Religious Diversity Statement Sparks Debate

Public consultation on a draft national statement on religious diversity has attracted strong views from both religious and non-religious groups, says Victoria University Religious Studies Professor Paul Morris.

Professor Morris, who is the author of the draft statement, will present an analysis of the submissions and an amended statement to a national interfaith forum in Hamilton on Monday. 

The public consultation process has been conducted by the Race Relations Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission, and has involved city councils, interfaith councils and individual faith and community groups across New Zealand.

Professor Morris said the response had been excellent, with a high level of debate about some of the issues raised by the statement. “The process has been a great success, and has been as important as the statement itself.  It has got people talking and brought a wide array of views out into the open.”

There have been submissions from interfaith meetings and groups, from the Exclusive Brethren, the Destiny Church, Catholic Bishops, the evangelical Vision Network, Rationalists, Humanists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’is, Jews, Sikhs, Quakers and many others, both collectively and individually, he said. 

“The range of views on issues is very broad, and many are held passionately. There are both stridently religious and anti-religious views, but there is also widespread support for the principles of tolerance and recognition and that there are many New Zealanders who profess a faith and many who do not.”

Key issues included the separation of church and state, the particular place of Christianity in New Zealand history and contemporary society, proselytisation, education about religions in schools, accommodation of religious belief and practices in workplaces, and freedom of the media.  Rationalists and humanists have raised the issue of the more than one million New Zealanders who profess no religion. 

Professor Morris said that the statement was important because of the new context for religions in New Zealand, including the increased religious diversity revealed by the 2006 census, cases of religious harassment, the reality of belief and non-belief and the global context of religious and political conflict.

Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act all recognise  freedom of religion and belief as well as the other rights affirmed in the statement, and it was interesting therefore that some of the statements were so strongly contested.

“A human rights framework can help to mediate such differences because it simply asks people to accord to others the same rights as they themselves seek and enjoy”,  Mr de Bres said.


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