Human Rights Commission To Remove Language Referring to New Zealand as Secular State Under Pressure From the Catholic Church

In an astonishing concession under pressure from the Catholic Church, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission has agreed to remove language from a draft report that simply stated that New Zealand is a secular state and that religion was only for the “private sphere.”

The offending language came from a 2004 report and stated “New Zealand is a secular state with no state religion” and that “matters of religion and belief are deemed to be a matter for the private, rather than public, sphere.”

New Zealand bishops relied on a highly implausible argument under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the New Zealand Bill of Rights. They insisted that, since the Universal Declaration protects freedom of religion, “[t]o suggest that matters of religion and belief belong only in the private sphere undermines the right of churches to seek to influence public opinion and political decision making.” The bishops were supported by the evangelical Vision Network which insisted “no major religion sees itself as a privatised matter.”

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres promised to revise the language, including the description of New Zealand as a “secular state.”

The problem is that a secular state protects the freedom of religion by preventing the establishment of a single religion. Those advocating the entanglement of church and state often suggest that the freedom of religion demands such an official role. The opposite is true. The original draft affirmed the need to preserve a secular state to remove government from favoring any particular religion. This is made plain by arguments of leaders like Destiny Church Bishop Brian Tamaki that New Zealand is a Christian nation by tradition.

The quick decision to remove the language shows an utter lack of principles by the Commission. The new report will be read now as affirming entanglement and rejecting the notion of a secular state. While the Church can legitimately ask for a line that recognizes the right of religions to speak in public debates like other groups, the actual practice of faith must be defined as a matter left to the private lives of citizens of New Zealand. If New Zealand is not a secular state, what is it?

Source: NZHerald.

15 thoughts on “Human Rights Commission To Remove Language Referring to New Zealand as Secular State Under Pressure From the Catholic Church

  1. This is, indeed, very odd. I’ll be interested to read more into this as New Zealanders weigh in on this. This incident could actually be a good thing, as it may well result in New Zealanders clarifying the importance of religion as a private matter. Anyway, as you undoubtedly agree, Jonathan, there was nothing unusual about the language of the draft. It was very a banal declaration.

    This is just one more example of not learning from the past. It’s quite a luxury these days for religions to operate without interference (or obliteration — case in point, Spanish Inquisition/Jews). Instead of appreciating that right to noninterference, it seems like religious institutions are themselves trying to interfere unduly with the private sector.

    I guess that’s just an inevitable dialectic.

  2. The church might be improving. The leaders actually had time to try to make policy instead of molesting kids.

  3. mr.ed

    The church might be improving. The leaders actually had time to try to make policy instead of molesting kids.

    ============================================================

    That would be nice but there is also this report out of New Zealand:

    “There is no need for a full-scale inquiry into cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in New Zealand, the Bishop of Christchurch, Barry Jones, says. ……

    Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust spokesman Ken Clearwater has already called for a full-scale inquiry into abuse in New Zealand.

    He said there may be thousands of victims of Catholic sexual abuse in New Zealand. …”

    I guess there are certain things Catholics in New Zealand do want to keep Private.

  4. Offtopic, but I believe TurleyBlawg has had a couple posts on Pat Pogan. Judge gave him no jail time, no commsrv and no probatation for his conviction on lying on the police report. Sick.

  5. I wonder why they gave in on this? Is New Zealand like the US where religion has so much political power and importance? I always thought of them as a sort of sane little country.

    I think this human rights commissioner pulled an Obama and gave in to a weak opponent for no identifiable reason.

  6. Atheists outnumber any single denomination according to the last NZ census, although christians as a whole outnumber atheists. The New Zealand Election Survey (2008) reveals that more than half of voters say they did not once attend church in the prior year and that only (from memory, now) about 14% of respondents attended church weekly.

    American HBO shows air on broadcast after 8:30 PM; prostitution’s legal; civil unions for gays. What counts as indecent for language on TV is determined by a survey.

    NZ is a secular state regardless of what’s written in some draft human rights report.

  7. Making secularism the official religion is as noxious to religious freedom as is making (say) Catholicism or Islam the official religion.

    For people who really believe in relgious freedom, a country should be neither officially religious nor secular, but simply neutral, with religious opinions having exactly the same rights as any other opinions.

    Clearly, secular elites in the U.S. (less powerful than in NZ, happily) want to make this country officially secular, with Christians as second-class citizens.

  8. secular \ˈse-kyə-lər\, adj.

    1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal (secular concerns) b : not overtly or specifically religious (secular music) c : not ecclesiastical or clerical (secular courts)(secular landowners)

    Contrast with

    ecclesiastical \-ti-kəl\, adj.,

    1 : of or relating to a church especially as an established institution
    2 : suitable for use in a church

    and

    atheistic \ˈā-thē-ist-tik\, adj.

    : pertaining to one who believes that there is no deity
    —-

    By definition, secularism is religiously neutral.

    Spoken like someone with an ecclesiastical agenda to equate secularism with atheism – which is a false equivalence. A false equivalent is the same thing as a false analogy which is an informal fallacy applying to inductive arguments. And as such false equivalences are at best distortions and at worst outright lies. According to Psalm 63:11 “But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.” (KJV). Sounds to me like God hates a liar. Which is bad for you because either your definitions are wrong and your logic is faulty or you’re a liar.

    It’s called English, Johnny.

    Get some.

  9. Acceptance of the alteration of wording reflects the kiwi (NZ) bent towards a practical framework over labels. Its an important difference culturally and helps explain the astonishment. The claim made for the right to manifest religious belief in public or in private and to teach one’s religious beliefs is valued over conventional labels “Secular state” “Muslim state” or “Christian State”

    kia ora

  10. See the above definition of “secular”, Richard.

    “Secular” isn’t a “conventional label”.

    It’s accurate grammar and usage.

    As a Commonwealth country, English is the language of New Zealand too.

  11. Just so we’re clear here about America.

    U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

    Compare with,

    secular \ˈse-kyə-lər\, adj.

    1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal (secular concerns) b : not overtly or specifically religious (secular music) c : not ecclesiastical or clerical (secular courts)(secular landowners)

    This means that the U.S. Federal government is by definition secular as it is concerned with the worldly concerns of We the People, cannot be overtly or specifically religious in passing legislation and can never be an ecclesiastical or clerical institution.

    Secularism is not and cannot be by definition a form of religious practice.

    It is not anti-religion, it is not pro-religion, it is religiously neutral. Unlike the terms “political” and “apolitical” there is no word “areligious”. What there is is the word “secular”. And that word means religiously neutral.

  12. John McAdams
    1, July 21, 2010 at 1:23 pm
    Making secularism the official religion is as noxious to religious freedom as is making (say) Catholicism or Islam the official religion.

    For people who really believe in relgious freedom, a country should be neither officially religious nor secular, but simply neutral, with religious opinions having exactly the same rights as any other opinions.

    Clearly, secular elites in the U.S. (less powerful than in NZ, happily) want to make this country officially secular, with Christians as second-class citizens.

    ==========================================================

    I do hope you read Buddha’s words closely and I hope you now understand the meaning of the word secular.

    Now I have a question for you. Did someone teach you the very erroneous thoughts you wrote out in your post or did you come up with it all on your own?

    If you are a citizen of this country and have such a totally erroneous view of the Constitution then may I suggest that you buy an accredited American history book and read it. I certainly hope that, given your deep misunderstanding of the document upon which this nation is built, you have never cast a vote in any election.

    If you are not a citizen then your complete ignorance is understandable.

  13. I understand the word “secular” quite well, and it very frequently does *not* mean neutral on religious matters.

    It quite frequently means “hostile to religion.”

    Said of any person, it means they are a nonbeliever. The implication is that a “secular state” is a state of nonbelievers, and if that’s in an official document, it places believers beyond the pale.

    When people in (say) France say that France is “secular,” they mean things such as outlawing Muslim covering by women.

    That’s not neutral. That’s a hostility to religion.

    The only neutral thing is for the state to be neither secular nor religious.

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