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Rerekētanga Whakapono – Religious diversity - Tūi Tūi Tuituiā

Rerekētanga Whakapono – Religious diversity

Religion in Aotearoa New Zealand more varied than ever

Census 2013 figures revealed considerable changes in the nation’s religious diversity.34

There has been a rise in the number of people with no religion, with more than four out of 10 New Zealanders, declaring themselves non-religious.

For the first time in over a century, Christians are not the clear majority. The number of Christians has dropped, with 1.9 million people affiliated with a church, down from over 2 million in 2006. The Anglican Church has been overtaken by Roman Catholicism as Aotearoa New Zealand's most popular religious community.

While Christianity may be decreasing, other religions, such as Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam have all grown significantly. There are now 89,000 Hindus in Aotearoa New Zealand, a rise of 16,000 since 2006. These religious communities are active and thriving and look set to continue to change the shape of religious diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Parliament acknowledges religious diversity

Members of Parliament passed a motion affirming that the rights and dignity of all New Zealanders should be upheld, regardless of their religious faith or ethnicity. This motion about respecting religious diversity was put forward following anti-Muslim comments made by NZ First MP Richard Prosser in an article in Investigate magazine. The motion was passed without debate and acknowledged the responsibility of all New Zealanders to act with justice, equity, and respect.


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Interfaith gatherings promote tolerance

In 2013, members of many faiths gathered at interfaith events across the country in the spirit of understanding and cooperation.

Highlights included a regional interfaith forum in Hamilton organised by the Waikato Interfaith Council (WIFCO). The forum brought together 70 delegates from around the North Island. Discussions focused on strengthening links between interfaith groups and supporting young people to engage in interfaith activities. There was also an opportunity to hear about the Semarang Action Plan which was agreed at the Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia in 2012. During the regional forum it was agreed that an annual National Interfaith Day should be established and work is underway to achieve this important goal.

It was a busy first year for the new Dunedin Interfaith Council which hosted an official welcome for the Dalai Lama at St Paul’s Cathedral. The new council is now preparing to host the 10th National Interfaith Forum in June 2014.

A national group of interfaith youth leaders, including representatives from Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Baha’i, Quakers, and the Sri Chinmoy movement, led a range of interfaith activities during the year. One highlight was an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama who offered words of encouragement to the youth delegation and advice on how they can work together in harmony within their faith communities and in the global interfaith movement.

During the year, several gatherings of religious leaders took place, including an inaugural meeting of the Religious Communities Leadership Forum, a new initiative bringing together leaders from various religious organisations to share spiritual ideologies and discuss religious diversity.

Media and religion – action needed

Media and religion was the key issue for discussion at this year’s Religious Diversity forum. Held as part of the New Zealand Diversity Forum in Wellington the event provided an opportunity to explore issues such as freedom of expression, media responsibility and the reporting of religion.

The forum was hosted by the Victoria University of Wellington Religious Studies Programme in partnership with the Human Rights Commission. Speakers included Professor Paul Morris; NZ Herald columnist Dita De Boni, blogger Anjum Rahman and Reverend Jenny Chalmers.

The forum discussed the need for improved guidance for religious communities on media complaints procedures as well as measures to make it easier for media to access advice and input from religious communities.

It was agreed that a working group and reference group would be established to guide the development of work in this area.

Council meetings opened with interfaith prayers

Hamilton City Council sent a message of inclusion in 2013 by deciding to begin each Council meeting with an interfaith prayer led by faith leaders from Jewish, Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities.

The council introduced the interfaith prayers following suggestions by former councillor Daphne Bell, with support from the Waikato Interfaith Council. The prayers were led by various Waikato faith leaders, reflecting the city's diverse demographics.

The new start to council meetings was praised by members of Hamilton’s religious communities who felt that interfaith prayers offered a chance to promote social cohesion and to guide and encourage the mayor and councillors in fulfilling the obligations for which they had been elected.

Religion in schools debate continues

Public debate over religious instruction in schools surfaced again this year at a symposium hosted by the University of Auckland.

The Education Act 1964 allows for state primary and intermediate schools to close for up to an hour a week for the purposes of religious instruction given by outside volunteers. Approximately one in three New Zealand primary schools exercise this opportunity, with parents being able to withdraw their children from participating. The vast majority of teachings are based on the Christian faith.

At the symposium, the Secular Education Network which opposes religious instruction in schools, argued that practices such as the Christian ‘Bible in Schools’ programme is inconsistent with a secular education system.

Paul Rishworth, Professor at the University of Auckland, explored the lawfulness of the Education Act. He suggested that the Act could be interpreted as embracing all religions and appeared to be lawful and consistent with the right to freedom of religion.

A Commission resource based on frequently asked questions and concerns about religion in schools is available at: www.hrc.co.nz/human-rights-environment/religion-in-new-zealand-schools.