Your rights

Your rights

Everyone is entitled to have and express their own personal beliefs including religious beliefs.

International treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights uphold the right to freedom of religion and belief.

How you can expect to be treated

  • We all have the right to the equal enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights
  • All Indigenous peoples are entitled to self-determination (to choose their political status and the way they want to develop) and the protection of their language, culture, heritage, and relationship to the environment
  • We all have the right to enjoy one's culture and to use one's own language
  • We all have the right to freedom of religion and belief.
  • We all have the right to be treated with respect, dignity and equity. We also have the right to not be harassed, taunted or teased because of our colour, our accent, the way we dress, the food we eat or anything else related to our race or ethnicity.

The Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the ground of religious belief in any of the prohibited areas of public life. Read more here.

Religious Rights

Under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and Human Rights Act the following rights are provided for:

  • The right to hold a belief
  • The right to change one’s religion or belief
  • The right to express one’s religion or belief
  • The right not to hold a belief.

The right to religion entails affording this right to others and not infringing their human rights.

The Statement on Religious Diversity

In 2007 the Human Rights Commission first published the Statement on Religious Diversity. The statement provides a framework for the recognition of New Zealand’s diverse faith communities and their harmonious interaction with each other, with government and with other groups in society.

It sets out a number of principles:

  • freedom of religion, conscience, and belief
  • freedom of expression
  • the right to safety and security
  • the right to reasonable accommodation of diverse religious practices in various settings.

The State and Religion

The State seeks to treat all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law. New Zealand has no official or established religion.

The Right to Religion

New Zealand upholds the right to freedom of religion and belief and the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religious or other belief. This right also includes the right to express your religious beliefs through wearing religious items. Read more here

The Right to Safety

Faith communities and their members have a right to safety and security.

The Right of Freedom of Expression

The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media are vital for democracy but should be exercised with responsibility.

Recognition and Accommodation

Reasonable steps should be taken in educational and work environments and in the delivery of public services to recognise and accommodate diverse religious beliefs and practices. Read more here.

Education

Schools should teach an understanding of different religious and spiritual traditions in a manner that reflects the diversity of their national and local community.

Religious Differences

Debate and disagreement about religious beliefs will occur but must be exercised within the rule of law and without resort to violence. This is covered under the Human Rights Act.

Cooperation and understanding

Government and faith communities have a responsibility to build and maintain positive relationships with each other, and to promote mutual respect and understanding.

Religious holidays

The Holidays Amendment Act 2010, passed in November, enabled workers and employers to agree to transfer public holiday entitlements from the standard statutory date (e.g. Christmas Day or Good Friday) to another working day – for example, to observe a day of greater religious or cultural significance to them.

Race Relations in New Zealand report

Read the Commission's report card on the state of race relations in New Zealand: Human rights and race relations – Whakawhanaungatanga a iwi for a comprehensive view on the human rights situation in Aotearoa. 

This report includes a section on the Freedom of religion and belief – Wateatanga o te hahi me te whakapono.

Balancing rights freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination

The Commission has provided an opinion on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act. Read can read it here.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can either view our Enquiries, Complaints, and Support section or our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Visit our Using your rights section to find out what your options are if you think you have faced racial discrimination.

You can visit this section for more info about religion.

Using your rights

Everyone is entitled to have and express their own personal beliefs including religious beliefs. You don’t have to put up with behaviour that denigrates you or your beliefs. Harassment is often repeated unless action is taken. It may impact on how you feel about work, study or accessing services.

Employers also have a responsibility to take steps to prevent harassment and to respond to complaints. This includes harassment by employees or clients.

You may have been harassed if someone: makes offensive remarks or jokes about your religion or beliefs or shows you religiously offensive material in the workplace.

Religious harassment may also be unintentional. The person who is being offensive may be unaware of its effect, but they can still be held responsible. What is important is how the behaviour affects you or others.

What you can do about harassment

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

Speak to the person who is harassing you and tell them you want them to stop, otherwise you will complain. You can do this in person, in a letter, or with a union or other representative. If this doesn’t work, or is inappropriate, you can seek advice and assistance from:

  • a racial harassment contact person (many workplaces have a harassment policy)
  • a manager or school counsellor
  • the Human Rights Commission
  • your union representative or a lawyer
  • a professional disciplinary body
  • the police
  • the Employment Relations Service (if you have been harassed at work).
  • Phone 0800 20 90 20.

Other organisations and individuals who can help you with initial advice and clarification include your local Member of Parliament or Community Law Centre.

What the Commission can do

We can advise you on whether your complaint is covered by the Human Rights Act and if it is we can help with mediation.

If mediation doesn’t work, we can advise you on your legal options. Learn more in our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section, or call our Infoline on 0800 496 877. Our service is free and confidential.

The main focus of our service is on resolving disputes involving unlawful discrimination, such as on the grounds of age, gender, ethnicity, or disability. But we can also help you with advice on broader human rights issues.

What happens if you think your human rights have been breached

If you think you have suffered a breach of your human rights, our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section has more information about how we can help, and your options. You can also read the Resolving Discrimination and Harassment Guide.

If your complaint involves discrimination and we cannot resolve it informally, you will be entitled to ask the Office of Human Rights Proceedings to provide you with free legal representation.

Wearing cultural, religious items

People should be able to wear jewellery such as a cross and taonga when these express their religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs.

Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and/or ethnic or national origins is not allowed under the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. This means that if your workplace or school does not let you wear items that significantly reflect your religion or cultural beliefs, it might be unlawful discrimination.

Follow the link to learn what to do if you are stopped from wearing items to expressing your cultural, religious, or national identity at work or school.

The Commission has published a report titled: Muslim Women, Dress Codes and Human Rights: An Introduction to Some of the Issues which may provide some guidance.

Religious diversity at work

The report, Religious diversity in the workplace: questions and concerns, raises awareness of issues that may arise and offers guidance in understanding and accommodating religious diversity in the workplace.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can view our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Celebrating your rights

New Zealand is one of the most diverse nations on earth. The Commission facilitates a number of projects, programmes, and events that allow you to celebrate our nations diversity: