"Editorial: Spirit of Tolerance is the Heritage," a Commentary by The New Zeland Herald

February 21, 2007

Author: The New Zealand Herald

Source: New Zealand Herald


Many eyebrows must be raised at a strange discussion of religion taking place at the Government's behest. A "national interfaith forum" has been held in Hamilton this week to discuss a draft national statement on religious diversity and it has ended in agreement that New Zealand has "no state religion". Well, we knew that.

Nobody except the Destiny Church has claimed the country does have a state religion, and even the Destiny pastor was talking about the country's heritage rather than the usual meaning of a state religion, an officially favoured church.

New Zealand, as the national statement observed, has been a non-sectarian state since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi when Governor Hobson affirmed in response to a question from the Catholic Bishop Pompallier that, "the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also Maori custom shall alike be protected".

Nothing has changed in that regard in the 167 years since and nothing is likely to change. Why, then, is the Government fomenting this discussion? When the exercise was announced, the Prime Minister presented it as an antidote to the potential for religious extremism among second- and third-generation immigrant minorities. We welcomed an effort in that direction. This country must do what it can to avoid the avoid the kind of tensions seen in Britain, and in Australia last summer when Sydney beaches were the scene of riots in reaction to real or perceived offences by young Muslim Lebanese.

But the debate this week is about how much the country needs to deny its Christian heritage in order that other traditions may be assured they have equal rights and recognition here. Those who have no regard for religion at all would be happy to deny that a Christian heritage has any role in the country's modern life, but they are wrong. Most of the attitudes and values that underpin our laws, education and codes of behaviour grew from the teachings of Christianity.