New Zealand consists of two main islands and other outlying smaller islands. It has a population of approximately 4.5 million, and has a democratic, parliamentary government.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

New Zealand does not have a written constitution but laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association. These rights are generally respected in practice. However there is some discriminatory law and an extant ‘blasphemy’ law with a possible prison sentence, against the letter of the constitution.

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

Religious advantage

There are some 50 Acts on the statute books that favour religion or Ministers of Religion at the expense of the non-religious community. For example: organizations that “advance religion” are given charitable status and tax exemption regardless of any other charitable activity; all extradition treaties and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters agreements with foreign countries provide that New Zealand may refuse assistance or extradition if it is suspected that the offence for which the person is sought relates to their religion but do not provide protection for those who are sought because they have no religion; the Marriage Act 1955 places different and more onerous requirements on non-religious organizations for the annual registration of Marriage Celebrants than it does for religious organizations; and religious workers are given preferential entry to New Zealand.

In addition, a “Statement on Religious Diversity” published and widely promulgated by the Human Rights Commission provides for the “Safety and Protection of Faith Based Communities” but not for non-theistic and other communities.

Exclusory religious symbolism

While the government does not have a state religion, non-denominational religious ceremonies and invocations are common at government events and in numerous other elements of the state’s self-representation. For example: a prayer is recited at the opening of every parliamentary session and some local authority meetings; both official National Anthems invoke god; religious symbols are incorporated into the New Zealand flag; religion in the form of prayers and song are used at many government, local authority, and other state functions; and state funerals are invariably religious even when the deceased person is not.

The state subsidizes religious activities through tax and local authority rate exemptions, through grants, and through subsidies to religious schools.

Religious Libel law

A Religious Libel law remains on the statute books: Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 criminalizes “blasphemous libel” with a maximum sentence of one year. There is no record of a successful prosecution under this law, but it remains on the books.

Education and children’s rights

The law, (Education Act 1967, Sections 77 to 81) provides that teaching within state owned “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 for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors. While attendance at religious instruction or observances is not compulsory parents must opt their children out rather than opt them in and some parents are not notified that the religious instruction is to take place or not informed that they may opt their children out. Those pupils that do opt out are sometimes known to face discriminatory and punitive practices.

While teaching in state owned public secondary schools is generally of a secular character there is no requirement for this and religious instruction or other religious activities such as bible reading and hymn singing may also occur in secondary schools at the discretion of individual school boards.

The state also fully funds private “Integrated” and “Partnership” schools and partially funds other Private schools. The majority of private schools are owned by religious organizations. There is no requirement for teaching in Integrated, Partnership, and other Private schools to be of a secular character and these schools may introduce religious instruction at the discretion of individual school boards. The ministry does not keep data on how many schools permit religious instruction or observances. During 2014 it was reported that government grants to the new Partnership schools per pupil were substantially more than grants to equivalent state schools and the government announced its intention to increase the number of Partnership schools.

Family, community and society

Law to prevent Female Genital Mutilation was enacted in 1995 with the addition of sections 204A and 204B to the Crimes Act 1961 but there are no specific laws to prevent forced and underage marriage of a New Zealand citizen taking place in another country.

While New Zealand is ostensibly a secular country and the New Zealand Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion and belief and the Human Rights Act outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religious or ethical belief.

New Zealand has also been one of the countries to legalise same sex marriage.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression and media freedom are protected by law and broadly respected in practice. Freedom of assembly and freedom of association are also fully protected in law and broadly respected in practice.