Because her parents opted her out of school Bible studies, 7-year-old Violet was placed in the "naughty corner" of her classroom and told to read a book while the other children sang songs and listened to stories.
When her father, Jeff McClintock, arrived early one day and checked on his daughter, he was upset — school officials had told him there was an alternative program for kids whose parents opted them out of Bible study, according to the New Zealand Herald.
That was more than three years ago. Now, the High Court — New Zealand's version of the Supreme Court — will hear testimony from educators and people of other faiths as they mull over a lawsuit to ban programs that only teach Christianity to children in New Zealand schools, NewsTalk ZB reported.
McClintock is supported by the Secular Education Network, a nonprofit that opposes religious education in New Zealand schools. The group says it opposes classes and activities that promote religion, but does not oppose religious studies programs that teach factual information about world religions.
By asking the court to rule that schools must be secular, "that doesn't mean hostile to religion, it means neutral about religion, so there's no special favors for Christians," said David Hines, a spokesman for the Secular Education Network.
McClintock told the NZ Herald he was initially concerned when Violet, at 5 years old, began asking if she could "meet God." That prompted him to take a closer look at the program, realizing it was taught by volunteers from a group called Life in Focus Trust. The volunteers aren't teachers or trained educators, and are not employed by the school district.
"We went along to have a look and realized it was run by very devout Christians," he said.
Initially, he told Stuff.co.nz, school administrators pushed back when he asked to have Violet removed from Bible studies, telling New Zealand's Sunday Star Times that the school considered them "history lessons." When he was finally able to opt his daughter out of the program, the volunteers began putting her in the "naughty corner."
"Last year my daughter spent a total of 4.5 days sitting in this corner," McClintock told the NZ Herald in 2012, before taking the case to court. "Also bear in mind she's in earshot of her friends singing, doing fun activities and hearing stories."
New Zealand state schools can choose to include religious classes in their curriculum, and school boards don't have to notify parents, although most do, according to NZ Herald. Under the law, school boards must provide alternative activities for kids who are opted out.
New Zealand's High Court is expected to begin hearings on the case on April 26, reported NewsTalk ZB.