Creationism has raised its silly head in New Zealand again, this time via the Christian fundamentalist group Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family is an American-based fundamentalist organisation but it has branches throughout the world, including one in Auckland.
The New Zealand branch of Focus on the Family has distributed four hundred copies of the pro-'intelligent design' DVD Privileged Planet to schools throughout the country.
The executive director of the Auckland office of Focus on the Family is Tim Sisarich, a former announcer with fundamentalist radio station, Radio Rhema.
Second in charge is Sheryl Savill, who is described as Focus on the Family's programme administrator.
Savill, along with former MP Larry Baldock, have been the principal organisers of the petition to force a referendum on Sue Bradford's anti-smacking legislation.
Focus on the Family works closely with Bob McCoskrie's Family First group. McCoskrie is also a former announcer on Radio Rhema.
Family First, like Focus on the Family, has long railed against 'liberal values' and 'liberal culture' and has been actively lobbying the National Party to adopt policies that 'reflect Judeo-Christian values'. McCoskrie's reactionary interpretation of Judeo-Christian values led him to lay a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the hit TV series 'The Simpsons', for 'inappropriate language'. He also described another TV3 series, Californication, as 'evil'.
Like Focus on the Family, Family First is among other things, anti-abortion and anti-gay. It has also consistently attacked the welfare state.
It is also strongly opposes the anti-smacking legislation and, like Focus on the Family, would like to see the reintroduction of corporal punishment into schools. Apparently they have no problems with adults inflicting violence on children, via the cane.
On the Family First board include former All Black Michael Jones and TV1 weather presenter Jim Hickey.
Another supporter of Focus on the Family and Family First is Stars In Their Eyes presenter Simon Barnett. He actively opposed the anti-smacking legislation.
Focus on the Family takes its lead from head office in the United States, specifically Colorado Springs, Colorado, though its unclear whether it receives any financial assistance.
It was formed in 1977 by James Dobson and actively works to promote and have implemented conservative governernemtn policies.
It produces magazines, video and radio programmes which are available through the Auckland office.
The radio shows are broadcast on Radio Rhema.
Since he formed Focus on the Family, Dobson has attacked Democrats and promoted the Republican Party - and he has done it largely with impunity.
However the tide appears to be turning for Dobson and Focus on the Family - and it is the emergence of Barack Obama that has turned the political tide.
Dobson was offended by Obama's criticism that the evangelical right promoted just their own view of Christianity and that they were, in fact, a range of differences within Christianity. Dobson was also angered with Obama's comment that a person could be moral without being religious.
Dobson, ironically, charged Obama with what he himself has have often been accused of - namely, 'distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to suit his own worldview'.
Dobson's attack on Obama provoked a reaction. A website was launched condemning Dobson.
And it was launched by a coalition of Christian leaders headed by Kirbyjon Caldwell who had led the benediction of George W. Bush's first Inauguration.
Dobson's religious and political beliefs are fast becoming a minority view in the United States. The influence of the Christian right is waning with many new evangelical leaders refusing to join the Old Guard's crusade against the Democrats.
As a consequence Focus on the Family is losing both members and revenue.
Here in New Zealand Focus on the Family and Family First have used the campaign to get a referendum on the anti smacking legislation as a trojan horse to promote their conservative views.
Now Focus on the Family are again pushing creationism. This is not the first time they have done this - in 2005 they sent out the same DVD and workbooks to some 500 New Zealand schools, with minimal impact.
Recent polls have shown that over 75 percent of New Zealanders reject creationism
The Education Ministry is taking a sensible view of the creationist nonsense. It says the unsanctioned material does not breach the Education Act and there are no plans to ban its distribution. But it stresses the theory of evolution underpins the science curriculum and schools have a responsibility to teach theories that are subject to accepted scientific scrutiny.
For a good review of The Privileged Planet check out http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-01-09.html