By Simon Collins
New Zealand Herald
The Human Rights Commission has bowed to Catholic Church objections to a statement that New Zealand was a secular state and that religion was only for the "private sphere".
The statement, contained in a draft update of the commission's 2004 report on Human Rights in New Zealand Today, drew fire this week from the country's Catholic bishops.
"To 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 said. The evangelical Vision Network agreed, saying "no major religion sees itself as a privatised matter".
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said yesterday that the offending words would be rewritten.
"We'll look to rephrase that to say the right to belief is a personal matter," he said.
"There wasn't any intention to limit or to privatise religious belief. It's more about the fact that it's a matter of personal choice and not of state direction, and that there is a strong tradition of religious diversity in New Zealand going right back to the so-called fourth article of the Treaty [of Waitangi]."
Bishop [Brian] Tamaki said Christianity underpinned New Zealand institutions.
Despite this protest, the commission's new draft statement initially repeated lines from the 2004 document that "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".
The Catholic bishops and Vision Network director Glyn Carpenter still object to the claim that New Zealand is a "secular state".
"This is contradicted by official statistics which show that a majority of New Zealanders described themselves as having a religion in the 2006 census," the bishops said.
Full story here.