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Principal’s eligibility shouldn’t depend on ideological litmus test – Free Speech Union

Summary of Submission

The Free Speech Union opposes the Ministry of Education’s Principals Eligibility Criteria in its current form because:

– They impose an ideological litmus test on applicants for principals’ roles within the New

Zealand education system. This runs contrary to the right of freedom of conscience and may be discriminatory under Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

– They may threaten the rights to freedom of speech and conscience of teachers employed and managed by principals who work to these criteria.

– They may contribute to creating an educational environment opposed to the cultivation of a culture of free speech, vigorous debate and tolerance for the views of others.


1. The Free Speech Union (FSU) is a registered trade union with a mission to fight for, protect,

and expand New Zealanders’ rights to freedom of speech, conscience, and intellectual inquiry. We envision a flourishing New Zealand civil society that values and protects vigorous debate, dissenting ideas, and freedom of speech as cultural cornerstones.

2. We firmly believe in freedom of conscience. People in all occupations should be able to hold

and express personal moral, political, religious and philosophical views without fear of being discriminated against in their employment. We also believe that education is crucial for passing on to the next generation a culture that values and practices critical thinking, rational debate, and tolerance for the views of others.

3. FSU members have raised concerns with us about the Ministry of Education’s new Principals

Eligibility Criteria and how certain criteria may impact principals’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience and belief, as well as rights to express those beliefs.

4. In its explanatory material, the Ministry claims the criteria are focused on ensuring people appointed as

principals have “certain skills, competencies, knowledge and expertise”. This is of course entirely appropriate. However, a number of the criteria in the framework appear to really be about ensuring principals’ adherence to particular beliefs and ideologies. This is an ideological litmus test. It infringes on freedom of conscience, and we believe it may be discriminatory under section 21 of the Human Rights Act as it will result in applicants for principal positions being discriminated against on the basis of their ethical beliefs and political opinions. We understand from those who have contacted us that some of these items were added late in the process and were not fully consulted on.

The criteria are not merely about skills, competencies knowledge and expertise. They are an ideological litmus test.

Figure 1: The Principals Eligibility Criteria

Below we set out an analysis of how some of the criteria are ideological, violate freedom of conscience, and are arguably proscribed by Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

Table 1: Analysis of criteria

Criterion Comment

Supporting cultural diversity and inclusion of all into school life. This includes upholding the rights of students, whānau and communities from diverse ethnicities, religions, and gender and sexual identities.

While we do not oppose inclusion of children from all backgrounds into school life, “supporting cultural diversity” is an ethical/political opinion. Discriminating against principal applicants who were opposed to it would violate their freedom of conscience and it is arguably proscribed by Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

Also, the inclusion of “gender” on this list may mean that principals who hold gender critical beliefs, or those who do not want to be compelled to use preferred pronouns, or girls who are uncomfortable with boys in girls’ toilets at school, may be discriminated against.

Being anti-racist and developing a culture that is free from discrimination and bullying.

While actual discrimination on the grounds of race is illegal in New Zealand, “being anti-racist” is an ethical belief. The term can mean different things to different people (you may be aware of cases in other jurisdictions where workers have been accused of racism if they expressed views against Critical Race Theory or the teachings of Martin Luther King). Because of this, its inclusion here may mandate discrimination against some people, which would be proscribed by Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

Incorporating mātauranga Māori in learning.

There is a live political debate underway on the status of Matauranga Maori and whether it ought to be taught in science class, or as a legitimate alternative to science, or equivalent in status to science as a way of learning about the physical world.

Its inclusion here may cut against the freedom of conscience of applicants on one-side of this debate and result in them being discriminated against on the basis of an ethical belief or political opinion.

A leader who brings Te Tiriti o Waitangi to life in the school, as the founding document of a bicultural Aotearoa New Zealand.

The idea that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a founding document of a “bicultural New Zealand” expresses certain political and ethical beliefs that not all New Zealanders share. For example, some consider New Zealand to be multi-cultural rather than bi-

cultural. Including this in the criteria may result in discrimination against applicants who hold this view, which would be prohibited under Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

Respecting and integrating kaupapa Māori and tikanga Māori in a school.

Integrating kaupapa Maori and tikanga Maori is arguably akin to an ethical opinion or political belief. Requiring this from applicants could cut against their freedom of conscience and may be proscribed by Section 21 of the Human Rights Act. It is also untrue that there is a singular view of kaupapa Maori and tikanga Maori.

Creating a culturally safe environment for ākonga to grow and develop as Māori.

It is unclear what a “culturally safe environment” is and what types of speech or behaviour from Principals would be required to create one. We worry about the possibility of applicants being discriminated against on the basis of personal, ethical or political views related to this criterion.

Understanding the impact of colonisation on education in Aotearoa.

It is unclear what this means. Different individuals, scholars and historians have different views about the impact of colonisation – some positive, some negative, some mixed. Will applicants be discriminated against for holding an unfavoured view on this issue? If so, it could be considered discrimination under Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

The rights of teachers may also be impacted

5. The criteria require principals to uphold students’ rights as set out in law. However, the

framework is silent on upholding the rights of teachers, i.e. employees, who are protected from discrimination on the grounds of religious or ethical belief or political opinion under Section 105 of the Employment Relations Act 2000, and whose rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion and belief are protected under the Bill of Rights Act 1990 (particularly teachers in state or state-integrated schools); specifically sections 13 and 14. As an employment union, this is of particular interest to us.

6. The FSU believes teachers’ rights may come into conflict with some of the requirements for principals outlined above, where they stray into the areas of belief, thought, and conscience. For example, take the following criterion: “Supporting staff, peer or student wellbeing. This includes supporting people to be safe, feel seen and respected, and able to be themselves.” While in general, this requirement seems appropriate, it might cut against the rights of teachers who do not believe in gender identity ideology. We have recently been involved in discussions with the Teachers’ Council about this. We recognise it is a complex and nuanced issue, but if the teachers managed by principals hired under these criteria feel they cannot express their views in this area, that is a violation of freedom of conscience and would run up against rights found in the legislation outlined above.

Can more be done to encourage a culture of free speech, open debate, and tolerance for opposing views to be taught in schools?

7. Part of our mission as a Free Speech Union is to encourage a culture of tolerance and open

debate, which we think is necessary for intellectual progress and human flourishing. But culture is something that must be actively passed on from one generation to the next – education is one of the primary ways of doing this. This is why we plan to engage with students in schools through our ‘FSU in schools’ programme’, which aims to teach children how to engage in rational debate, uphold a culture of tolerance and respect those with different views.

8. Our concern is that some of the ideological points outlined above may cut against the

cultivation of “free speech culture” by our schools. For example, we have observed in other areas that the encouragement of “cultural safety” often involves the suppression of certain viewpoints. We would rather encourage students to think that the best way to deal with opinions they don’t like is to debate them rather than suppress them. Equipping students with the tools of critical thinking and respect for different views is, in our view, the best way of promoting “cultural safety”.


9. Our primary concern is that some of the Principals Eligibility Criteria may discriminate against

applicants for Principals roles on the basis of their ethical beliefs and/or their political opinions. This is a violation of their freedom of conscience and appears to be proscribed by Section 21 of the Human Rights Act.

10. We are also concerned about the freedom of expression, thought, conscience, belief and opinion of teachers employed in schools run by these principals. Another concern is that these and other measures coming out of the Ministry of Education seem aimed at inculcating a set of values, beliefs and norms in students that may cut against the teaching of norms necessary to uphold a culture of free speech, open debate and tolerance for the views of others.

11. For all these reasons, we submit our opposition to the Principals Eligibility Criteria in its current form and request that they be reworked to address the concerns raised in this submission.

12. We request a meeting to discuss these matters further.


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