There's no state religion - de Bres

Wellington, New Zealand - Despite outrage from some religious groups, a revised national statement on religious diversity has retained the principle that New Zealand has no state religion.

At the weekend Destiny Church and Vision Network of evangelical churches expressed outrage that the statement said there was no state religion.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres told NZPA that point was kept in the updated draft, released at a national inter-faith forum in Hamilton today.

"We start with the State seeks to treat...all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law. New Zealand has no state religion.

"It's a statement of fact as far as I know."

He said it was also a fact there was diversity in New Zealand.

"The purpose of this statement is basically to set out some very simple ground rules about tolerance and respect of human rights and that means the human rights of people who are religious and the human rights of people who are not."

Prime Minister Helen Clark is to present an agreed statement to an Asian inter-faith dialogue in Waitangi in May.

Mr De Bres did not think the difference of opinion would derail that.

"It's not something one can derail. I think what will be derailed is their misunderstanding about it. It's not a government statement, it's not a new law, it's not forcing anyone to do anything so there's nothing to derail."

Today on Newstalk ZB Miss Clark held the same position as Mr De Bres.

"There is no state religion, there will be no state religion. We are very diverse peoples these days we simply couldn't agree on a state religion -- this is not like a Scandinavian country where people are virtually born into the Lutheran church, and have to resign from it at a later age."

The statement was drafted for the Human Rights Commission by Victoria University Religious Studies Professor Paul Morris.

The public consultation process has been conducted by the Race Relations Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission, and has involved city councils, interfaith councils and individual faith and community groups across New Zealand.

There have been submissions from interfaith meetings and groups, from the Exclusive Brethren, the Destiny Church, Catholic Bishops, the evangelical Vision Network, Rationalists, Humanists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baha'is, Jews, Sikhs, Quakers and many others, he said.

Key issues included the separation of church and state, the place of Christianity in New Zealand history and contemporary society, education about religions in schools, accommodation of religious belief and practices in workplaces, and freedom of the media.

Rationalists and humanists have raised the issue of the more than one million New Zealanders who profess no religion.