I have written about New Zealand’s National Statement on Religious Diversity before. In fact, the problem of the discussion and formulation of this document was one of my initial incentives to start this blog (see Religious diversity includes “non-believers”).
This statement was prepared under the sponsorship of the NZ Human Rights Commission. The working group was composed of only representatives of religions and submissions from the non-religious (about one third of our population) were ignored. The final document almost completely ignores the existence of the non-religious. (For example artice 3: “THE RIGHT TO SAFETY. Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security”).
A “review” of the statement
Complain about this omission to those responsible for the document and they will assure you that it is not cast in stone, that it will be reviewed and we will be listened to. Well, unless the Human Rights Commission changes the composition of the working group to make it more representative of New Zealand’s true religious diversity all I can say is “pull the other one.”*
Nevertheless – the human Rights Commission is undertaking a “review” before this year’s Diversity Forum in August. But, it turns out that the Commission has decided that “the focus of the review will be on the commentary, picking up points that have been made and increasing its usefulness as a handbook.” In other words – a Clayton’s review – the review you have when you are not having a review**. And the “review” will be by just one person – Professor Paul Morris of Victoria University!
If anyone feels they have the time to make a submission which may just disappear into the ether then email them to email@example.com by May 31. Kent Stevens, from the Humanist Scoeity of New Zealand has already done so. His submission states:
“Paul, I would recommend with your review that you highlight that EVERYONE HAS EQUAL RIGHTS. If you have special consideration of people of faith then you should have similar allowances for people of no faith, which includes people who are Humanists. Please also point out the strong secular strand that runs through our NZ history. I can see why religious people want the right to safety and security. However, Salmon Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali also want this. If we have a Humanist gathering we want to be safe at this. Many non-religious people who, also pay a large portion of the tax burden, want this as well. If you give recognition and accommodation to religious people in work and education then Humanists must have the same. If a Muslim, for example, may take certain days off work, then why can not a Humanist also take Darwin Day (February 12) as a holiday. If you can teach religious studies at schools then you should also teach ethical belief or Humanism. Remember, there is a strong philosophical tradition that reinforces ethics, which goes back to Socrates and Confucius. If you are going to have relationships between faith communities and governments, then you must also allow non-faith communities this same privilege. If it is too hard to state equality for non-faith communities in the Statement itself, then at least allow for it in your commentary. The NZ Humanist Society has a relationship with government in that we often send in submissions on proposed legislation. We do not object if religious people also give submissions. However, a written or oral submission by our organisation must be given the same weighting as one from a religious organisation. We would like equal rights and equal responsibilities.”
Good points Kent.
Many people probably think the National Statement is irrelevant – so why worry about it? Certainly this seems to be the attitude of many relgious people.
However, the recent launching of a police handbook on religious diversity shows the problem (see Police ignore non-religious). This outlines different religious beliefs and helps develop staff awareness of how they should deal with people from different communities in a sensitive way. But the non-religious are completely ignored. Perhaps the message is that no sensitivity is required when dealing with these heathens!
* “Pull the other one:” A Kiwiism meaning to poull my other legg – implying that one is not being honest;
** “A Clayton’s ….:” A Kiwi saying which arose after the unsuccessful attempt to introduce an alcohol free beverage into the NZ market. It was advertised as the Clayton’s drink – the drink you have when you are not having a drink. For some reason it never caught on.