A justification some supporters of the National Statement present is that it is restricted to religions, therefore its right that it was controlled by religious groups. And anyway, they did allow us non-religious people to make submissions.
However, the statement was about diversity of religious belief and it did have the purpose of addressing the problems of extremism in religious attitudes and attitudes towards religion (terrorism and hate crimes) . Surely, diversity of religious belief encompasses beliefs about the things usually (but not always) encompassed by religions – beliefs about origins, gods, ethical and social teachings. Atheists and groups with other non-theist beliefs (Buddhism, Humanism, Rationalism, etc.) are part of this diversity.
Also, all believers (non-theists as well as theists) are potential victims of (and potential perpetrators of) terrorist acts and hate crimes. Extremists and their victms are not restricted to those with only theist beliefs. The approach taken with the Statement seems not to properly appreciate this. Perhaps this is why clause 3 gives the right to safety and security only to “Faith communities and their members”. Perhaps a mistake of omission, but it does stand out after clause 2 which “upholds the right to freedom of religion and belief”. I’m not saying that the working group controlling formulation of the Statement would deny these rights to non-religious people. But if the group had been more representative of the true religious diversity (including non-theist beliefs) in this country the mistake would not have been made.
We would condemn the Human Rights Commission if it set up a working group to formulate a statement on ethnic diversity but limited its membership to representative of only those groups which have arrived in New Zealand since 1800. This situation could not be defended by claiming a definition of ethnicity excluding the original inhabitants of this land, or by providing the opportunity for Maori to make submissions which the working group could decide to include or exclude from the statement.
But, the past is the past. After all, the Statement is now only words on a bit of paper. The real issue is how we deal with the issues arising out of diversity of belief in this country. I strongly believe that this prejudice against (some) non-theist groups needs to be overcome.
I welcome the fact that people with different beliefs are attempting to build a dialogue aimed at overcoming prejudice and removing the hostilities and fears which provide a fertile ground for extremism. I welcome the formation of the different “Interfaith” groups where this is an important component of their work. But I think this work would be far more effective if they widened it to also include those beliefs currently excluded. After all, we are all in this together. Aren’t we?