The constitution, comprising several basic laws, states that religious expression is “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” According to the law, religious practices may not breach the peace.
The government does not require the licensing or registration of religious groups; however, for a religious group to collect money for any charitable purpose, including the advancement of its religion, or obtain tax benefits, it must register with the Department of Internal Affairs as a charitable trust. The registration must provide the rules of the organization showing it is a nonprofit organization and a list of officers free from conflict of interest who will not put their own interests above the organization. There is no fee for this registration.
The law provides that “teaching in every public primary school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.” A public primary school may close, including during normal school hours, for up to one hour per week, up to a total of 20 hours per year, to devote to religious instruction or religious observance, to be conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board of trustees. If a public primary school provides religious instruction or observes religious customs, it must allow students to opt out. Religious instruction or observance, if provided, usually takes place outside normal school hours. Public secondary schools may provide limited religious instruction and observances within certain parameters that ensure they do not discriminate against anyone who does not share that belief. General religious education is not regulated by legislation.
Individuals may file complaints of unlawful discrimination, including on the basis of religious belief, to the HRC. The HRC’s mandate includes assuring equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, protecting the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, promoting freedom of religious expression and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and promoting religious tolerance in education. In the event a complaint is not resolved satisfactorily with the assistance of HRC mediation, the complainant may proceed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT). The tribunal has the authority to issue restraining orders, award monetary damages, or declare a breach of the Human Rights Act through a report to parliament. Conduct prohibited by the Human Rights Act (e.g., workplace discrimination, including that based on religion) may also be prosecuted under other applicable laws. In addition to the HRC dispute resolution mechanism, a complainant may initiate proceedings in the court system; in exceptional circumstances, HRRT cases may be transferred to the High Court.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Hours after the March 15 attack on two Christchurch mosques, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the attacker as a terrorist and a criminal. The government called for solidarity with the Muslim community and advocated tolerance. In the aftermath of the attack, the prime minister and senior government officials participated in events that memorialized the victims, such as a service at one of the targeted mosques on March 21 that drew an estimated 20,000 participants. On March 19, parliament opened with its first-ever Islamic prayer in a show of solidarity with the Muslim community. In the weeks after, the government passed emergency legislation that included the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (typically reserved for “matters of the gravest public importance”) into the attacks. To deter copycat attacks and reassure the Muslim community, armed police were deployed outside all the country’s mosques and Islamic centers for six weeks after the Christchurch attacks. The prime minister called on international governments and the global technology sector to adopt the Christchurch Call for committed governments and technology companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. In October the government announced 17 million New Zealand dollars ($11.5 million) in extra funding for domestic law enforcement and work with partner governments and the international technology sector to combat terrorist and violent extremist content online, including content related to religion.
In May the Ministry of Education released guidelines on religious instruction in state primary schools to help clarify boards of trustees’ legal obligations when allowing religious instruction (which differs from general religious education, which is not regulated by legislation), and to help trustees develop best practices around how to offer religious instruction. The draft provided guidance on how to close schools for the delivery of religious instruction in a way that would reduce the possibility of discrimination. In early December the education minister proposed that schools require signed consent from a parent or caregiver before allowing a student to participate in religious instruction, as part of a broader Education and Training Bill. Some secular education advocates expressed concerns about the legality and propriety of any religious education in a secular education system.
In a legal action concerning a long-running dispute on religious instruction in schools, complainants from the Secular Education Network (SEN) said many schools ignored legal restrictions on religious instruction. SEN also stated the HRC had not taken appropriate action against broader “state-sanctioned religious bias” by the Ministry of Education, and said there was conflict between those sections of the Education Act authorizing religious instruction in state schools and the right of protection from discrimination due to religious beliefs in the more recent Bill of Rights Act. A decision in the High Court is expected in 2020.