The constitution provides for religious freedom, including the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private. The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. In May the media reported that a little-known blasphemy law was still in effect. It has not been applied since 1922, and some observers said it was anomalous in light of legislation that is more recent. An opposition party attempt to repeal the law was defeated by the governing coalition that, although it was itself in favor of repeal, preferred any changes to go through an ongoing review committee. In April a long-running dispute over the teaching of religious education in schools reached the Human Rights Review Tribunal. Advocates for secular education complained the Ministry of Education and the government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) supported a proreligious – and specifically pro-evangelical Christian – bias by lax enforcement of laws and regulations. A decision was not expected until at least April 2018, due to a backlog of cases at the tribunal.
Jewish and Muslim leaders reported anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents. The HRC received 69 complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for 2016-17, 16 percent fewer than the previous year. The HRC, government officials, and community leaders denounced these incidents. In April after media reports of anti-Semitic posters appearing on a college campus, the New Zealand Jewish Council President said anti-Semitism was increasing, particularly online. In September the media and national Muslim groups condemned a University of Waikato academic’s criticisms of religious observance in the workplace on a public social media forum. The university condemned all discriminatory language and said it would investigate. In February an attacker verbally and physically assaulted a group of headscarf-wearing Muslim women in Huntly. Police apprehended the attacker, who pleaded guilty to assault and expressed remorse for her actions.
The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general officers continued to meet with the government and representatives of all major religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society. In August the Consul General hosted an interfaith event in Auckland and followed up with a grant to a local Islamic Center for its interfaith community work.