New Zealand

International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The publicly funded Human Rights Commission made substantial progress in developing a National Statement on Religious Diversity, which reinforces government policy.

There were isolated instances of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country is an island nation with an area of 103,000 square miles and a population of 4,180,000. The country is predominantly Christian but is becoming more religiously diverse. According to the 2006 census, approximately 56 percent of citizens identify themselves as Christian, a 5 percent decrease from the 2001 census. The number of people who identified themselves as Anglican and Presbyterian declined between 2001 and 2006, while Roman Catholics and the Methodists showed modest and slight increases, respectively. The Maori Christian churches, which integrate Christian tenets with precolonial Maori beliefs and include Ratana and Ringatu, experienced significant growth. The number of self-identified Pentecostals increased by 17.8 percent between 2001 and 2006, while the number affiliating with “Evangelical, Born Again, and Fundamentalist” Christian groups increased by 25.6 percent. During the same period, non‑Christian religions continued to show strong growth rates, driven primarily by immigration.

According to 2006 census data, percentages of religious affiliation are: Anglican, 14.8 percent; Roman Catholic, 13.6 percent; Presbyterian, 10.7 percent; other Christian, 8.2 percent; Christian (no specific identification), 5 percent; Methodist, 3.3 percent; Buddhist, 1.7 percent; Hindu, 1.7 percent; and Muslim, 1 percent. There were also more than 90 religious groups that together constituted less than 1 percent of the population. In addition, 34.7 percent stated that they had no religious affiliation.

The indigenous Maori (estimated at 15 percent of the population) tend to be followers of Presbyterianism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), or Maori Christian groups such as Ratana and Ringatu. The Auckland statistical area, which accounts for approximately 30 percent of the country's population, exhibited the greatest religious diversity.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

During the reporting period, the Human Rights Commission consulted with religious and other societal leaders to draft a National Statement on Religious Diversity. The current statement, presented in February to the fourth National Interfaith forum in Hamilton, reinforces the existing legal and policy framework that guarantees equal treatment of all faiths before the state, the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, freedom of religious expression, the right to recognition and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and the promotion of understanding in education. The National Statement is the outcome of a proposal made by the New Zealand delegation to the first meeting of the Asia Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in December 2004. In May 2007 New Zealand hosted the third meeting of the Asia Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Waitangi, New Zealand. At the meeting Prime Minister Helen Clark expressed her support for the National Statement on Religious Diversity.

The Education Act of 1964 specifies in its "secular clause" that teaching within public primary schools "shall be entirely of a secular character"; however, it also permits religious instruction and observances in state primary schools within certain parameters. If the school committee in consultation with the principal or head teacher so determines, any class may be closed at any time of the school day within specified limits for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors. However, attendance at religious instruction or observances is not compulsory. According to the Legal Division of the Ministry of Education, public secondary schools also may permit religious instruction at the discretion of individual school boards. The Ministry does not keep centralized data on how many schools permit religious instruction or observances; however, the curriculum division stated that religious instruction, if provided at a school, usually was scheduled after normal school hours.

Under the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act of 1975, the Government, in response to its burgeoning general primary school role and to financial difficulties experienced by a large group of Catholic parochial schools, permitted the incorporation of private schools into the public school system. Designated as "integrated schools," they were deemed to be of a "unique character" and were permitted to receive public funding provided that they also enrolled nonpreference students (students who did not fit within the "unique character" of the school; for example, non-Catholic students who attended a Catholic school). A total of 327 of the 2,598 schools of all levels were integrated schools with this designation. As of July 2006 there were 239 Catholic schools, 75 schools with other religious affiliation, and 13 schools with no religious affiliation integrated into the public school system. A student cannot be required to attend an integrated school; admission to such a school is based on a student's request.

For the year ended June 30, 2006, the Human Rights Commission received 2,058 complaints having an element of unlawful discrimination under the Human Rights Act. Of these complaints, 70 (3.4 percent) were classified as unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief.

The Government does not require licensing or registration before it will recognize a religious group. However, if a religious group desires to collect money for the promotion of religion or charitable causes and wishes to be recognized by the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) to obtain tax benefits, then it must register with the IRD as a charitable trust. There is no fee for this registration.

The country has two registered Christian-associated political parties. There are no other religiously affiliated parties, although the law does not prevent the registration of parties based on other religions. Gordon Copeland, a Member of Parliament, has expressed interest in forming a third Christian party.

Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter are official holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, some businesses were fined up to A$1,000 (US$820) if they attempted to operate on the official holidays of Christmas Day, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday. (Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) Day is the only nonreligious holiday that carries similar fines.) The Government exempts businesses providing essential supplies, convenience items, and food and drink.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no instances of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were isolated instances of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, and prominent societal leaders, including the Prime Minister, took positive steps to promote religious freedom. Incidents of religiously motivated violence are extremely rare. Due to the infrequency of their occurrence and difficulty in establishing such motivation, the police do not attempt to maintain data on crimes that may have been motivated by religion.

The government-funded Human Rights Commission actively promoted tolerance on the issue of religious freedom. In addition to hosting the Asia Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Waitangi in May 2007 and helping to develop the National Statement on Religious Diversity, the Commission maintains an ongoing Diversity Action Plan of which respect for religious diversity is a pillar.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy continues to maintain contacts with representatives of the country’s various religious communities and includes them at sponsored events when appropriate. The Embassy maintains an ongoing, open dialogue with all local interlocutors on the topics of religious freedom, tolerance, diversity, and related issues.