The unwritten constitution, which comprises several basic laws, states that religious expression is “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The unwritten constitution provides 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. According to the law, religious practices may not breach the peace.
The government does not require the registration of religious groups; however, for a religious group to collect money for any charitable purpose, including the advancement of its religion, or to obtain tax benefits, it must register with the Department of Internal Affairs as a charitable trust. The registration application must include the trust document, bylaws of the organization showing it is a charitable organization, and a list of officers who state they are free from any conflict of interest and that they will not put their own interests above the organization. There is no fee for registration.
Education-related laws specify that curriculum and teaching in state primary and intermediate schools must be secular while the school is open. Schools that choose to offer religious instruction may close for up to one hour per week and no more than 20 hours per year to allow religious instruction by voluntary instructors. According to law, any local public-school board that chooses to allow students to take part in religious instruction must have signed consent from a parent or caregiver for his or her child to opt into receiving that religious instruction. To comply with human rights laws, religious instruction may not discriminate against the religious or nonreligious beliefs of students. The law does not regulate general education regarding religion as an academic subject, but only when a particular religion or faith is taught or given preference. The law also requires school boards to consult closely with the school community, offer “valid alternatives” to religious instruction, provide secular school and student support services, and include a complaint procedure to resolve related issues. The Ministry of Education publishes guidelines to help school boards navigate the legal framework regulating religious instruction.
Individuals may file complaints of unlawful discrimination, including on the basis of religious belief, with the HRC. The HRC’s mandate includes assuring equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, protecting the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, promoting freedom of religious expression and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and promoting religious tolerance in education. In the event a complaint is not resolved satisfactorily with the assistance of HRC mediation, the complainant may proceed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT). The tribunal has authority to issue restraining orders, award monetary damages, and/or declare a breach of the country’s Human Rights Act through a report to parliament. Conduct prohibited by the Human Rights Act (e.g., workplace discrimination, including that based on religion) may also be subject to criminal prosecution under other applicable laws. In addition to the HRC dispute resolution mechanism, a complainant may initiate civil proceedings in court; in exceptional circumstances, HRRT cases may be transferred to the High Court.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March, on the third anniversary of the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks that resulted in 51 deaths, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that the government had “a lot of work to do” in fulfilling recommendations made by the royal commission of inquiry following the attacks, which included 44 specific points including increased funding for a number of initiatives. The report also recommended that civil and criminal processes, remedies, and penalties intended to protect against the incitement of hatred – currently focused on color, race, and ethnic origin – should expand to include religion, among other categories. In June, the independent advisory group providing advice to the government on its response to the royal commission said it was “very concerned by the lack of observable progress on work on incitement and hate speech and reporting tools.” At the same time, the Federation of Islamic Associations said that “government agencies are working in earnest and sincerely,” but that more funding would be needed to implement the report’s recommendations.
In August, Ministry of Justice officials said work had begun on reform of hate crime legislation in the second half of 2021, and in October, the justice minister “promised” to introduce new legislation “by the next election,” but according to a variety of commentators, a draft bill was not expected before the next general election, scheduled for October 2023.
The HRC maintained its recommendation, first put forth in 2004, that police should collect specific hate crime data. In 2021, the human rights commissioner highlighted “the importance of data collection and reporting by the police of hate incidents that are potentially motivated by racism [allowing for] systematically recorded race-based harassment and violence.” Since 2020, the data collection system used by police when logging information on crimes investigated has required the inclusion of “targeted protected characteristics” such as race or religion, according to media reports. The HRC stated there was, however, no single comprehensive record of investigations reflecting the elements of a “hate crime” as a standalone offense in the database.
In September, the High Court ruled that government officials were not acting unlawfully when they restricted and regulated religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court acknowledged that the rules curtailed the protected right to “manifest religious beliefs” but stated that such rules were allowable in a health emergency.
In June, the government announced it would join, as an observer, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which works to “unite governments and promote Holocaust education.” The NZJC and the Holocaust Center of New Zealand welcomed the decision, but the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (NZ) said the move would “undermine the fight against antisemitism and racism of all kinds.”