Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2017, 11:21 GMT

2014 Report on International Religious Freedom - New Zealand

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 October 2015
Cite as United States Department of State, 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom - New Zealand, 14 October 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5621056c6.html [accessed 25 September 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws and policies provide for religious freedom. There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom

Jewish and Muslim leaders reported a slight increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic incidents in society, including some harassment of children. These events were strongly denounced by the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

The U.S. Charge d'Affaires and other embassy and consulate general officers continued to meet with the government and representatives of all major religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society. The embassy's public diplomacy efforts regularly included interactions with various religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 4.4 million (July 2014 estimate). According to 2013 New Zealand census data, 11.8 percent of the population is Anglican, 12.6 percent Roman Catholic, 8.1 percent Presbyterian, 2.6 percent Methodist, 7.5 percent other Protestant denominations, 5.5 percent Christian with no affiliation specified, 2.3 percent Hindu, 1.5 percent Buddhist, 1.4 percent Maori religion, 1.2 percent Muslim, and 0.2 percent Jewish. Since 2006 the number of people affiliating with Islam increased by 27.9 percent and the number of people affiliating with Hinduism increased by 39.6 percent. More than 90 additional religious groups together constitute less than 1 percent of the population. The number of people stating they had no religion increased by 26 percent compared with the 2006 data, from 34 percent of respondents to 42 percent; 4.4 percent of the respondents to the census question on religion stated they objected to the question.

According to 2013 census data, of the indigenous Maori, who make up approximately 15 percent of the population, 1 percent are Anglican, 11 percent Catholic, and 8.4 percent belong to syncretic Maori Christian groups such as Ratana and Ringatu. Forty-four percent stated no religious affiliation and 27 percent did not respond regarding religion.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The law states that religious expression is unrestricted "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." According to law, religious practices may not breach the peace.

The law provides that teaching within public primary schools "shall be entirely of a secular character." It permits religious instruction and observances in state primary schools within certain parameters, however. 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 for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors; however, attendance at religious instruction or observances is not compulsory. According to the Ministry of Education, public secondary schools also may permit religious instruction at the discretion of individual school boards. The ministry does not keep data on how many schools permit religious instruction or observances. Religious instruction, if provided at a school, usually takes place after normal school hours.

Citizens may file complaints of unlawful discrimination, including on the basis of religious beliefs, to the government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC). 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. The tribunal has the authority to issue restraining orders, award monetary damages, or declare a breach of the Human Rights Act, which is reported to parliament. Conduct prohibited by the Human Rights Act may be prosecuted under other laws. In addition to the HRC dispute resolution mechanism, a complainant may initiate proceedings in the court system.

The government does not require the licensing or registration of religious groups; however, if a religious group desires to collect money for any charitable purpose, including the advancement of its religion, and obtain tax benefits, it must register with Department of Internal Affairs as a charitable trust. The registration must provide the rules of the organization showing it is a non-profit organization and a list of qualified officers. There is no fee for this registration.

The law does not prevent the registration of political parties based on religion. The country has two registered Christian-associated political parties.

Government Practices

The government does not specifically promote any religion; however, a Christian prayer is recited at the opening of every parliamentary session.

Businesses may be fined if they attempt to operate on the official holidays of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas, and Australia – New Zealand Army Corps Day. There were 18 complaints businesses operating during official holidays during the reporting period, but the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment said because none of the businesses had received a warning or been previously prosecuted under the law, they would not be prosecuted.

The HRC continued to implement its 2007 Statement on Religious Diversity, which aimed to assure equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, 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 HRC promoted religious tolerance, facilitated a national interfaith network with a monthly electronic newsletter, and maintained a Diversity Action Program, which included respect for religious diversity.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The HRC received 70 complaints against members of society for unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief or lack of religious belief for 2013-2014.

In August the HRC met with and issued a statement supporting Jews in the country after Jewish leaders reported an increase in anti-Semitism in the wake of the conflict in Gaza. In November The New Zealand Herald reported a four-year-old boy wearing a yarmulke on his way home from school was slapped by an adult. The HRC said it was also supporting Muslims in the country after the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand reported an increase in anti-Muslim incidents. New Zealand Police actively responded to these reports but no arrests were made.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Charge d'Affaires and Consul General, along with other officers from the embassy and consulate general, met with the government and representatives of all major religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society. The embassy's public diplomacy efforts regularly included interactions with religious groups. For example, the consul general hosted an interfaith iftar for the Auckland Muslim community and interfaith council. The dinner brought together leaders from Auckland's Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, Protestant, and Muslim communities to discuss religious freedom and educate attendees about the Muslim faith. The Charge d'Affaires delivered the keynote speech on U.S. global and local efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, religious freedom, and tolerance at the first ever anti-Semitism seminar organized by young members of the Jewish Federation. The New Zealand Attorney General also participated. The embassy also supported an Auckland-based religious academic in a program on religious pluralism in the United States.

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