This week, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission co-partnered with Office of Ethnic Communities and the Religious Diversity Centre to launch the third edition of the Statement on Religious Diversity.
The Statement was originally published and endorsed by a wide range of faith groups in 2007. A second edition followed 2009. This third edition reflects changes in New Zealand’s religious composition and acknowledges the seminal events of 15 March 2019.
Despite New Zealand being a secular State, Aotearoa is increasingly becoming a country of many faiths. Religious diversity is a significant feature of public life and includes those who profess no religion. Over the last decade, New Zealand’s religious demography has continued to expand and we are now the 15th most religiously diverse country in the world. Aotearoa is more religiously diverse than Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States of America.
This latest iteration of the Statement also contains a Foreword from Prime Minister Jacinda Arden where she highlights that the Statement is a timely reminder to value the principles of religious freedom, especially in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque attacks. Ultimately, New Zealanders should be free to believe and practice their faith (or no faith) without fear for their safety, or for the security of their place of worship or gathering being targeted.
Over the years, the Statement has been supported by former Race Relations Commissioners and more broadly, the Human Rights Commission’s role has been to remind New Zealanders of the various international treaties (including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), that uphold the right to freedom of religion and belief: the right to hold a belief; the right to change one’s religion or belief; the right to express one’s religion or belief; and the right not to hold a belief.
These rights are reflected in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act. The right to religion entails affording this right to all and not infringing upon the human rights of any.
The Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt and the new Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon helped to launch the Statement alongside Professor Paul Morris and representatives from the Office of Ethnic Communities.