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Fifty NZ Acts favour religion, says international report

12 December 2017

New Zealand has some 50 Acts on its statute books that favour religion or ministers of religion at the expense of the non-religious community, the 2017 Freedom of Thought Report says.

The annual report has been published since 2012 by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. It includes every country in the world.

In its section on New Zealand, the report says while the government does not generally promote any religion, a Christian prayer is recited at the opening of every parliamentary session.

"Organisations that 'advance religion' are given charitable status and tax exemption regardless of any other charitable activity," it says.

"All extradition treaties and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters agreements with foreign countries provide that New Zealand may refuse assistance or extradition if it is suspected that the offence for which the person is sought relates to their religion but do not provide protection for those who are sought because they have no religion.

"The Marriage Act 1955 places different and more onerous requirements on non-religious organizations for the annual registration of Marriage Celebrants than it does for religious organizations; and religious workers are given preferential entry to New Zealand."

The report also notes that a “Statement on Religious Diversity” published and widely promulgated by the Human Rights Commission provides for the “Safety and Protection of Faith Based Communities” but not for non-theistic and other communities.

"A religious libel law remains on the statute books: section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 criminalises 'blasphemous libel' with a maximum sentence of one year. There is no record of a successful prosecution under this law, but it remains on the books," it says.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019