The Religious Leaders Forum – 2019

Dr Jenny Te Paa Daniel and Jocelyn Armstrong
The third national Religious Leaders Forum hosted by the RDC was held in Auckland on 3rd of December 2019.
The day’s discussion focused primarily on how we might counter religiously motivated violence in New Zealand, and secondly on the issue of education about religion in schools.
Two Muslim leaders shared their experience in the wake of March 15th. They called on religious communities to recognise the presence of – not only Islamaphobia  – but all the religiously motivated discrimination and harassment experienced in New Zealand, and to see that all minorities are protected: “We need to work at it.”
Emeritus Professor Paul Morris and Professor Douglas Pratt then shared their research and their conclusions on the topic of religiously motivated violence and discrimination.
Professor Morris’s presentation focused on white Christian-identifying men in different parts of the world, as well as in Christchurch,  who express extreme ‘alt-right’ ideologies of hatred and discrimination as a result of feeling excluded from current social and cultural discourse. He challenged his audience to consider how the system which produces these kinds of ideologies ought to be improved, so as to prevent the sense of alienation and anger which may manifest as violence against others. 
Professor Pratt’s presentation focused on how we as religious communities should create and maintain equality, understanding and good relations despite our differences. He highlighted the fact that religious groups need to be involved in positive inter-religious relations, so that the cultural or religious communities distinct from our own are no longer perceived as strange and potentially dangerous. For this reason, education about each other, our various religions and beliefs in Aotearoa, need to be provided in order to counter these voices and reduce acts of violence. 
(Persons interested in learning more about Prof. Douglas Pratt’s research in this area can purchase his book, “Religion and Extremism: Rejecting Diversity”, from the RDC.
Full discussion raised questions of ‘our unity in our diversity’, the boundaries on ‘free speech’,  the protection of one another’s rights, and how to engage young people in face to face conversations that will ‘humanise the other’ and show them that the religions, 
though distinct, do have unifying moral ethics. 
The day’s second topic of discussion was education about religion in schools, the topic identified as of primary importance by the past two Forums. Aware of the Prime Minister’s concern for this issue and her questions at the dialogue with religious leaders in June a Proposal for Government had been prepared under the direction of the workgroup established by the Forum: a Proposal to provide age appropriate religious studies in all New Zealand schools. 
After some final amendments the Forum declared the document ready for the signatures of those who had attended the RDC hosted Forums and for mailing to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Education, Ethnic Communities and Social Development.