SAYit Blog
How about religion in schools?

I thought people might be interested in the results of a SAYit poll we did in October 2013.  We asked n=1000 New Zealanders how they felt about religion being taught in New Zealand schools, and I think the numbers support the general trend away from religious belief picked up by the 2013 census.

In case you haven't seen the stats out today (in this article), Census 2013 showed that:

  • 42%* of New Zealanders now say they have no religion, up 7% since 2006.
  • 48% say they are Christian, down 6%
  • The combined total for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews is up 1% to 5%.

Although the media reports say that Auckland has bucked the trend away from religion, the actual truth is that the change in Auckland has simply been less than elsewhere.  The proportion of Aucklanders with no religion is up 6% to 38%, while the proportion of Aucklanders subscribing to Christianity is down 5% to 48%.  The number of religious people in Auckland seems to be up simply because the population has increased (and there has been a reasonably big rise in the percentages subscribing to Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and to a lesser extent Buddhism).

Incidentally, some of you may recall the supposed 'movement' in 2006 to giving your religion as 'jedi'.  Stats NZ aren't stupid enough to think there's an actual religion called 'Jedi' (especially as they would have been well aware of the 'movement') so their information doesn't record how many gave that answer.  As someone who works with this sort of data, I assume that the 'Jedi' responses would have been coded as either 'religion unidentifiable' (10,653 or 0.3% of the population at the time) or 'response outside scope' (30,945 responses or 0.7% of the population).  So much for people claiming that 'everyone they knew' was doing it - the actual data shows that less than 1% of the population gave that response. That's not so much a popular movement as a damp squib.

In our survey, I thought that it was important to capture the difference between two types of religious education:

  • Teaching about Jesus and the Bible from the perspective of Christians, in the way you might expect to be taught about it if you went to Sunday School.
  • Teaching about all religions from a neutral or historical perspective, where the teachings outline what followers of each religion believe and the history of each religion without taking a view on which religion is more likely to be correct.

The numbers show that we're not particularly comfortable with 'Christian' education, at least as far as the first statement goes.  27% of New Zealanders agreed that "New Zealand schools should include classes on Christianity taught from a Christian perspective", while 47% disagreed and 26% were neutral or undecided.

  • 37% of over 60s supported this, compared with 22% of 30-44s and 21% of under 30s.
  • 38% of provincial South Island residents were in favour, compared with 22% of Christchurch residents and 25% of Wellingtonians.
  • 32% of National voters supported this, compared with 23% of Labour voters and 15% of Green voters.

I was initially surprised by how low that was, but I guess it's symptomatic of the relatively small number who consider themselves Christians.  It also indicates that there are plenty of Christians who do not think Christianity should be taught in schools (at least from a Christian perspective).

On the other hand, we're keen on what you might call comparative religious education.  74% of New Zealanders agree that "New Zealand schools should teach about the differences between religions but not about which religion is right", while only 12% disagree.

  • 76% of over 60s agree with this sentiment, as do 75% of under 30s.
  • There is little difference between the regions on this, with 74% of Aucklanders, 77% of Wellingtonians, 74% of Cantabrians and 78% of those living in rural areas agreeing. 
  • Green voters (91%) are more likely than National voters (70%) to agree with this statement, with Labour voters in between (75%).

You may also be interested in our poll on teaching evolution vs creationism: