School defends use of 'intolerant' religious pamphlet

  • 17/05/2015

Papanui High School has hit back at claims students were exposed to inappropriate material after a Christian conservative pamphlet was given out.

It described women who have sex outside marriage as "cheap prostitutes", and says those who have gay sex will face punishment of death and hell.

The Christchurch school's board of trustees chairperson Sandy Brinsdon insists the views aren't those of the school.

"It's really important that kids understand a wide range of views that are out there in the community that they're going to come across – that's how we prepare them to be good young adults," she told RadioLIVE.

"It was given out as one of many perspectives of a range of views that society holds. It wasn't done to discriminate or offend anybody – it was to help the students in their learning."

The Ministry of Education said it would be "rare" such material would be appropriate in a classroom setting, and Labour education spokesperson Chris Hipkins said the pamphlet "steps over the line" and should be withdrawn.

The pamphlet is published by United States-based Bible Baptist Publications, and contains phrases such as: "Either you are married or you are not married. If you are not married, yet you have sexual relations, then you are a wicked fornicator."

It was given to 15-year-old students, but its relevance not explained in class until the following week, reports Fairfax Media. 

Secular Education Network coordinator Peter Harrison agrees with Mr Hipkins, claiming the pamphlet's distribution is "essentially against our New Zealand Bill of Rights and our Human Rights Act".

"I think they should be examined in a social studies context, probably as something that we should be fighting against, because that kind of thing is intolerant."

University of Auckland education lecturer Pat Bullen says whether or not the pamphlet is inappropriate would depend on the context of the lesson in which it was presented.

"The health curriculum is very clear about sex education, that it is about developing the skills to understand that there are diverse views, there are diverse ways of being in the world," she said on TV3's Paul Henry programme this morning, "but in addition to that, to also understand and present these in a respectful way."

Dr Bullen says she presents "challenging" material to her students, and even 15-year-olds should be able to understand that such extreme views do exist in the community.

The key is presenting it in a way students who might be gay or have de facto parents aren't made to feel unsafe.

"I think that is a really important thing to consider when you do deliver this type of material to young people."

She suggests it could be more dangerous to keep such views hidden from teenagers, leaving them to come across them in less-controlled environments than a classroom.

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