Statistics New Zealand asked for feedback from the public about broadening the religious affiliation question in the five-yearly New Zealand census. 

Following an initial consultation, Statistics NZ proposed “broadening the range of religious affiliations, denominations, and groupings”.

According to a statement, if the “refreshing” goes ahead, “Marxists, Maoists, Jedis, and Pagans will be able to see how many other people in New Zealand identify with their religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs”.

The consultation also proposed expanding the sub-categories that sit under some of the broader religious affiliations, such as Judaism and Islam.

The aim of the “refreshing” was to make it easier to collect and release information that accurately reflects contemporary New Zealand society.

Changes to the standard classification of religious affiliation only sought to “add, delete, or amend categories at the most detailed level of the classification”.

In the 2013 census, in the religious affiliation question, the following options were listed “No religion, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, other religion — print what it is”.

“Christian” was the only option which offered subcategories or denominations. Under the Christian option, the following sub-categories were offered: “Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Ratana, Ringatu and other – print what it is.”

More than 100 different religious affiliations were listed among responses to the overall question.

The Statistics NZ statement emphasised that it is not the department’s role to decide what is and what isn’t a religious affiliation or denomination.

Noting the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Commission’s Statement on Religious Diversity, the department’s consultation material stated: “Fundamentally, the right to religion includes the right to hold a belief or not, to express that
belief, and to follow the practices that arise from that belief.”

Among the concerns with the standard classification in the religious affiliation question was that it did not “provide a sufficiently robust mechanism for responding to emerging
beliefs, philosophies, and religions, specifically what to include and what to exclude, and in particular address issues that have been presented to the Human Rights Commission”.

The consultation closed on October 7.

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