Framing New Zealand's funding of religious schools
In 1975 the New Zealand government, flying in the face of constitutional separation of church and state, legislated to integrate religious schools into the government school system. Substantial funding of these schools soon followed. Max Wallace analyses this history finding the likely reason for the funding was more to do with politics than 'justice' for students in religious schools.
Do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame and it won't be the frame you want ... Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas. George Lakoff
George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California. In his best-seller, Don't Think Of An Elephant! he demonstrates how the art of 'framing' posing an argument in seemingly impartial terms, such as 'tax relief' is often a method for advancing a political cause by stealth. The cause can be for the left or the right.
In western societies today the language of the conservative right is effective in blindsiding citizens. By 'blindsiding' I mean the obverse of what Lakoff is driving at: making certain ideas unthinkable by never referring to them, hence the phrase 'don't give them oxygen'; it is a way of posing an argument in terms that no one in their right mind would question.
When I was a philosophy student at the University of Auckland so many years ago, I happened to get into a lift with a sometimes iconoclastic lecturer in that department, Mr Bernard Pflaum. Out of interest he decided to enrol in the law school and became simultaneously and I guess part-time - a student himself.
He gave up on it. When I asked why he shook his head and said 'casuistry'. This squared with what he did, at another time, when I asked him, in his office, as a naive undergraduate, what he was really on about. He waved to a picture on the wall of his office: Jesus casting out the money-changers out of the temple.
Philosophy as we know is a very demanding subject. Mr Pflaum found the law school wanting. Dictionaries define 'casuistry' in its negative sense as 'specious or excessively subtle reasoning intended to rationalise or mislead.' That's what he meant. His well-honed mind couldn't cop what often amounts to hypocrisy. In sociology this is known as the public face as opposed to the private reality, the latter being the way things really work.
Nevertheless, as barrister Dr Jocelynne Scutt has said, the law is a tool we can use to seek ever-elusive justice. In so far as that is true, and in so far as certain kinds of law reform can have consequences for those that control the power-money-status systems of law, politics and religion, it behoves the latter to 'frame' law textbooks in ways that structure a subject in ways that often precludes critical, or even, other, perspectives.
In this situation, students are unwittingly duped if they are not mindful of a basic philosophical principle: prejudices are more often found by contrast than by analysis. By comparing two different bodies of literature we see what they include and exclude. It is the old 'compare and contrast' question, but so easily forgotten.
Bury yourself in the legal textbooks of human rights and pretty soon you will find they have been authored by the same sorts of people who author the weighty tomes of black-letter law. They are beautifully written, well argued, apparently fairly, to the finest legal point. The problem is, the result is much the same as in other areas of law: defence of power-money-status in most of its aspects. It's hard to see that without broadening your reading to other perspectives.
A New Zealand example. Churches are tax-exempt by virtue of the ancient category of religion as a form of charity. This was initially formalised in the 1601 Statute of Charitable Uses, during the reign of Elizabeth I. Partly as a consequence, the major churches in New Zealand today, as elsewhere, are very wealthy. The Anglicans and Catholics are billionaires, the rest are merely rich.
Despite this wealth, New Zealand continues to fund religious, mainly Catholic schools. In a 2007 talk freely available on the internet, Professor Paul Rishworth, formerly Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland, who, as a barrister, recently represented the Anglican Church in a case against a gay Anglican wanting to become a minister of religion, said that New Zealand decided to fund Catholic schools because a
funding crisis placed the continuation of those schools in peril. The state enacted a law that allowed schools to integrate and receive public funding. This facilitated the continuing desire of Catholic parents to have their children educated in a Catholic environment the schools were allowed to retain their 'special character'. But note this was done in an equal way: the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act was neutral as between religions and other philosophical beliefs.
This is a perfect example of the framing technique detailed by Lakoff cited above. It frames history to justify a predetermined position.
Firstly, Professor Rishworth fails to mention that the idea that children of Catholic parents should only be educated in Catholic schools goes back to a Papal Encyclical of 1864. Briefly, the Pope saw the newly emerging secular education
systems of the 19thC as a threat to Catholic indoctrination. The view was that religious and secular education could not be separated and the church should go its own way free from the contamination of the secular state.[4 ]
In faraway New Zealand the Pope's encyclical was ignored in 1883 when Bishop Moran unsuccessfully stood for parliament on the state aid [public funding of religious schools] platform. Much later in 1956 a petition to parliament requested 'justice' for private schools and Catholics were urged to vote for candidates who would be sympathetic.
It only occurred to critics of state aid that if the Pope insisted on Catholic education for children of Catholic parents that maybe the Vatican should put its money where its mouth was and fund it. For their part, Catholic advocates of state aid came up with a new argument: ignoring the fact that churches are tax-exempt they argued Catholics were taxpayers too, so why shouldn't their taxes go to the funding of Catholic schools?
Critics were swift to point out that (1) the state provided free education for all children (2) the Catholic Church had turned its back and gone its own way with its own system of schools for decades (3) it was a bit rich to be crying poor now and if aid was granted there would be less for public schools (4) it was divisive to separate children on the grounds of their religion.
There is a longer, even murkier story here involving a Catholic lobby group, but the likely motivation, I suggest, for the eventual 1975 legislation facilitating the funding for Catholic and other private schools was, again, the perception of the electoral advantage of mainly Catholic votes.
As Associate-Professor Dakin pointed out, just prior to the 1969 election, then Opposition Leader, Norman Kirk, offered to pay half of Catholic teachers' salaries if Labour won the election. Dakin remarked this move was seen as 'a desperate ploy to outbid the National Party'. If this bidding war meant compromising New Zealand's secular education system, so be it. Labour lost the 1969 election but won in 1972.
When the 1975 election rolled around the state aid issue was still in play and Labour was facing a confident and acerbic Opposition Leader, Robert Muldoon. But the charismatic Norman Kirk, Prime Minister from 1972, had died of a heart attack, aged 51, on 21 August 1974. Kirk's replacement, Bill Rowling, was likeable, but ineffectual. They were staring at defeat.
The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act was passed at a late night session of parliament at the very end of the parliamentary term. It passed 40 votes to 26 on 7 October 1975. A third reading of the bill was held on 10 October and it received Royal Assent that very day, which was the last sitting day of the parliament. Why the rush? The election was to be held on 25 November 1975.
Second, why should the secular state 'facilitate' the 'special character' of Catholic schools so that Catholic parents could have their children 'educated in a Catholic environment'? The Catholic home and their many churches were not enough?
When Professor Rishworth characterises this total breach of the principle of separation of church and state, and a total breach of the secular nature of the Education Act, as 'equal' and 'neutral' it is framing. The Private Schools Integration Act 1975 served to privilege those who claimed to be victims, in this case, the tax-exempt Catholic Church. Their schools could have been integrated into the public system, minus the religious instruction, and life would have gone on.
The very likely point of the exercise was political, to save a failing Labour Government, caught at a moment of weakness. Was it just a coincidence the same thing happened in Australia around the same time? It was reported recently that a Catholic Labor activist helped persuade Australian Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam to roll over and promise to fund Catholic schools in order to enhance his chances of winning the 1975 election, which he did, narrowly.
A triumphal reading of this New Zealand history is caught in a Catholic writer's provocatively titled paper 'Unmaking New Zealand's State Secular Education System', predicated, again, on a total lack of appreciation of the principle of constitutional separation of church and state.
It is instructive that Professor Rishworth defends private, religious school funding, using religious criteria, ignoring their current wealth.
The churches fight to keep the 19thC Nelson system of religious instruction in public schools and attempt to place as many religious chaplains in schools as possible. With their flock declining inexorably at every Census, churches are doing everything they can to retain and get further access to children's minds. Just why adults' attempts to indoctrinate children is not considered an abuse of children's human rights is something that conservatives are loathe to consider.
A truly secular, impartial state would see religious instruction taken out of public schools altogether, taking the view that children should be allowed to ask questions about religion in their own good time. It would also reconsider the constitutionality of the funding of religious schools.
Max Wallace PhD is a Council member of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists.
- M. Wallace & R. Nola, 'Asset rich churches should pay fair tax', New Zealand Herald, 8 August 2013. When asked about their wealth in 2008 before the Charities Commission was fully able to put their wealth reporting requirement into practice, the Anglican and Catholic churches would not respond. S. Blundell, 'The God Dividend', The Listener, 2 February 2008.
- B. Manning, 'Church should be free from state interference', New Zealand Herald, 9 May 2013. While the Anglican Church was opposing a would-be gay priest in the Human Rights Tribunal in May, the parliament was preparing to approve gay marriage, which occurred on 19 August 2013.
P. Rishworth, 'New Zealand Diversity Forum on Religion and Schools', www.hrc.co.nz, 14 September, 2007.
4. The Pope castigated those who would 'approve the system of educating youth unconnected with Catholic faith and the power of the Church', T.H. Smeaton, Education in South Australia from 1836 to 1927, Adelaide, 1927, pp99-102 cited by A.G. Austin, Australian Education 1788-1900, Pitman Press, Melbourne, 1961, pp201ff.
- C. McGeorge & I. Snook, Church, State and New Zealand Education, Price Milburn, Wellington, 1981, pp. 10 &17.
- Ibid, pp 47-9.
- J. Dakin, 'Undermining New Zealand's State Secular Education System' in M. Wallace (Ed) Realising Secularism: Australia and New Zealand, ANZSA, Melbourne, 2010, p. 117. See also J. Dakin The Secular Trend in New Zealand, NZARH, Auckland, 2007.
- For a recent discussion of church and state in New Zealand see M. & M. Wallace, 'Finding separation of church and state for New Zealand', On Line Opinion, 30 September, 2013.
- B. Johns & P. Rolfe, 'Labor stalwart helped secure Catholic vote', Obituary, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 2011.
- R. Sweetman, 'Unmaking New Zealand's State Secular Education System' in J. Stenhouse (Ed) The Future of Christianity, ATF Press, Adelaide, 2004.
- M. Petersen, 'The Future of Christianity in New Zealand: What Is Happening with the Children?' in The Future of Christianity, ibid.
The terminal decline of christianity in New Zealand
The New Zealand Census over past years shows a steady decline Christianity. There is little to indicate a major revival.
The terminal decline of christianity in New Zealand
The results of the 2013 New Zealand Census has Christianity down to around 47 per cent. Retired scientist, Ken Perrott's, accompanying graph charts Christianity's decline in every recent census and projects its decline to just above 20 per cent by 2030 and further, beyond that date. It is, of course, very unlikely to disappear altogether, but, equally, the chances of a major Christian revival in New Zealand are very remote.
Perrott argues that citizens can 'double dip' in the Census by being a member of more than one group. He argues there are more responses to the religion question then there are citizens. Given the majority of Census religion question options are Christian, those ticking more than one Christian denomination could be, mathematically, in excess of 100,000. If that is so, Christianity in New Zealand could now be as low as 41.9 per cent.
The New Zealand Catholic noted that there was 'a stunning rise' in the number of people declaring 'no religion', a total of 1.635 million citizens out of a total population of 4.24 million. They remarked 'the number of census respondents who identified as 'no religion' or who didn't answer the religious affiliation question was more than the total number who identified as Christian. This is believed to be the first time this has happened in New Zealand census history.'
In a major address entitled 'The Gospel in the Decade Ahead' published on the website of the New Zealand Christian Network in 2011, but since removed, the national director, Glyn Carpenter, said that the NZCN's agenda was partly to 'turn the side of secularism' and 'rebuild a marriage culture'.
Three years later their agenda is in tatters with the government legislating for gay marriage on 19 August 2013 and the Census result showing Christianity in a state of steep decline. It goes to the credibility of the NZCN that its website makes no mention of the Census result.
SECULARISM AND SECULARISATION
Like many hardline evangelists Glyn Carpenter confuses 'secularisation' with 'secularism'.
Secularisation refers to the on-going centuries old societal process of the fading away of religion as a part of everyday life. Many Christian writers agree with Max Weber's location of the origins of secularisation in the 16thC Reformation, the Protestant-Catholic split which 'allowed the freedom of the believer to think for himself.'
Briefly, it is characterised by the decline of religion as a factor shaping human life; replacement of community by a society-wide, pluralistic, materialistic, rational culture; a reliance on scientific modes of thinking and planning; the gradual diminution of the supernatural as a credible idea.
A Seventh-Day Adventist author wrote in 1987, well before Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris came to prominence, that 'the threat to religion in [the] modern technopolis does not come in the first place from aggressive atheism or the state or secularism, but from the urban-societal system itself with its underlying principles and attitudes and assumptions.'
Christian critics confuse secularisation with secularism when they claim that secularism is government characterised by 'the lack of any apparent, overt, visible interest in God, the Bible, religion or spiritual values.' This misses the key point, recognised by many other Christians, that secular government is characterised rather by separation of church and state, as inferred, they argue, in Jesus' famous response to 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.'
Locating separation of church and state in these words is contestable. Nevertheless, there is the key recognition here that government and religion are better separated. If they are not separated it follows that government is theocratic to a degree. I have argued this is the case in Australia and New Zealand, as many symbolic and financial aspects of government preference religion very advantageously, despite its decline.
Evangelical Christians, like many Muslims and other hardline religious, just don't understand, or refuse to understand, or reject the principle of, political secularism. They are wedded to a world view that simply cannot countenance any alternative to their own.
That, in fact, is a working definition of the term 'ideology': the inability, or total reluctance, to consider that other world views are credible alternatives to one's own. The notion that government should attempt balanced compromises between all world views, i.e; political secularism, is not on their radar. They do not seem to take the point that their rigid views don't sit well with democracy and are inherently totalitarian in nature.
ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN DECLINE
Sociologically, it seems the party is over for Christianity in New Zealand. While the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists' radio campaign to encourage citizens to tick 'no religion' in the 2013 census may have been successful, it is more likely that long term trends of secularisation and various sexual abuse and financial scandals associated with churches have put them beyond the point of no return; future declines in adherents seems certain well into the future.
The impact of civil celebrants, I believe, has also been very important. Over decades they have been conducting marriage, funeral and naming ceremonies as alternatives to church services. The majority of these ceremonies are now civil. I suspect families experiencing a civil ceremony for the first time have found that a meaningful ceremony is possible without religion. At the next occasion they have chosen that option. Churches have been undermined at an important point of interface between themselves and the public.
This decline of religiosity is also global in most western nations. Even in the most religious, the United States, a British Christian theorist was advising his colleagues in 1987 that 'one of the best means of witnessing to those who do not currently have spiritual interests is at points of personal crisis: divorce, the death of a spouse, the loss of a job, or a serious accident or illness.' In other words, the mainstream message of Christianity even by then had little impact and the best way to convert citizens was, like compensation lawyers, to chase ambulances. Glyn Carpenter himself has conceded in the speech cited above that that is how he found God.
Despite their vast wealth, in the billions, forever accumulating thanks to their tax-exempt status; despite all the funding they have received for their religious schools; despite their wealthy, independent tax-exempt colleges; despite their schools of theology in universities; despite all the media time through various radio and television programs, either through purchased time or their own media; despite their various campaigns, their bookshops, their churches, their profile in the symbolic activities of government, the Anglican Queen's tours - despite all this - Christianity in New Zealand is falling in a hole.
By focusing too much on (1) the accumulation of wealth (2) attempts to influence government (3) the pursuit of status and prestige and (4) risible attempts to rationalise all that, Christians have lost the plot. They are supposed to be about spiritual wealth and salvation, that is their raison d'etre, but it is one gig they don't want to personalise.
They dish it out, but few practice it. They don't sell off their assets to alleviate poverty in pursuit of the Christian ideal of giving in a truly serious way, preferring to boast, in a self-aggrandising way, about how the sky would fall in if it wasn't for their charities. This is only partly true, and many of them live quite well, thank you, in comfortable positions running those charities.
It is this double standard that is augmenting their decline as the average citizen cannot see any difference between themselves and how self-confessed Christians live. To be sure, they are caught between a rock and a hard place: 'How are we Christians going to live in a money-loving world and yet not be of this world?'
That is a question that perhaps understandably could not be properly framed two thousand years ago when Christianity commenced. On the one hand they were told it was easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to get to heaven. On the other they were told their God provided the abundance of the world for them to enjoy. Maybe two thousand years ago in a tiny, simple, illiterate, peasant economy that subtle but all-important contradiction could go unnoticed.
Today, in the high-intensity, market-setting, capitalist economy, it is a near impossible question, a source of confusion, as only extreme ascetics deny all forms of materialism. Because it's a project that will not be realised as there will never be enough Christian will to do so, Christianity will continue its downward slide. The new Pope, naming himself after the eccentric ascetic, St Francis, is trying to square this circle by cutting down on his Vatican luxuries: a futile gesture from the man who is the sole owner of the never-publicly-audited Vatican Bank.
Just why all taxpayers should continue to subsidise Christianity's failing mission in New Zealand (and by extension, Australia) through tax exemptions and grants is a question that is now thrown into relief.
There are many secular demands on the budget, alternative ways to allocate taxpayers' revenue that would help grow the economy. It is not in the public interest for New Zealand to subsidise Christianity's (and other religions') failing private projects. It is time for government to move with the soon-to-be majority of the public, and blow the whistle on this game.
 New Zealand Catholic, 10 December, 2013.
 J. K. Paulien, 'The Gospel in a Secular World', in H. M. Rasi & F. Guy (Eds) Meeting the Secular Mind, Andrews University Press, Michigan, 1987, p.27; M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in German, 1905. Many English editions since 1930.
 G. Oosterwal, 'The Process of Secularization', in Rasi & Guy, Op. Cit., p.56.
 M. A. Finley, 'Target and Tactics', in Rasi & Guy, Ibid, p. 99 and 'We Don't Do God', on-line debate, School of Theology, University of Otago, 16April, 2012.
 M. Wallace, 'Australia and New Zealand are Soft Theocracies', Dissent, No.42, Spring, 2013, republished in Australian Humanist, No.113, Autumn,, 2014.
 Finley, Op. Cit., p.104.
 S. King, 'Not keeping up with the Joneses: the Christian practice of becoming poorer', in B. Rosner (ed) Beyond Greed, Matthias Media, Kingsford, NSW, 2004, p.155.
 For a review of Christianity's decline in Australia, see C. Akehurst, 'The Decline of the Suburban Church', Quadrant, December, 2013; P. Mickelburough, 'Almost five million Australians say they have no religious beliefs', Herald-Sun, 29 December, 2013; T. Frame Losing My Religion, UNSW Press, 2009.
 A basic discussion of this issue can be found at 'Flush kiwi charities failing to pay out', www.stuff.co.nz, 18 May, 2013.
Finding Separation of Church and State for New Zealand
Drs. Max and Meg Wallace conclude that "genuine constitutional separation of church and state is not possible in the constitutional monarchies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It seems likely all three would have to become republics for separation to be achieved".
Finding Separation of Church and State for New Zealand
On 31 July this year submissions closed to the government's Constitutional Advisory Panel concerning a constitution for New Zealand. New Zealand, like England, does not have a written constitution. On 13 July there was a day-long seminar sponsored by the Law Faculty at Victoria University in Wellington on the question of separation of church and state. One reason for this seminar was the lack of constitutional separation in New Zealand .
New Zealand is not alone in this respect. In Australia, there has been no High Court case interpreting s.116 of the federal constitution, based on the American First Amendment, to mean separation of church and state. The six Australian states also have constitutions written between 1840 and 1859. None of them have a section separating church and state. In fact, in 1853, a major figure in Australian, and to some extent, New Zealand history, William Charles Wentworth, said in the parliament that the New South Wales constitution would be a British constitution 'not a Yankee one.'
In Canada, there is no section in the 1867 Constitution Act separating church and state. Similarly, in the New Zealand 1986 Constitution Act, there is no such section. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come right out and said separation of church and state is an American constitutional concept that does not apply to the Canadian constitution. While Canada dropped the Union Jack (a composite of crosses of Christian saints) from its flag to be replaced entirely by the maple leaf, that was done to placate the secessionist, French-speaking citizens of the province of Quebec.
So, what should New Zealand do? The likely answer can be found in another former British colony, not so far away: Fiji. This small, troubled nation became a republic after a coup in 1987. Twenty five years later, the question of separation of church and state was addressed by a Constitution Commission, established in 2012, comprising some eminent persons headed by Professor Yash Ghai. On 6 September 2013, the day before Australia's federal election, the new constitution was promulgated.
It includes this section:
4.- (1) Religious Liberty, as recognised in the Bill of Rights, is a founding principle of the State.
(2) Religious belief is personal.
(3) Religion and the State are separate, which means
(a) the State and all persons holding public office must treat all religions equally;
(b) the State and all persons holding public office must not dictate any religious belief;
(c) the State and all persons holding public office must not prefer or advance, by any means, any particular, religion, religious denomination, religious belief, or religious practice over another, or over any none-religious belief; and
(d) no person shall assert any religious belief as a legal reason to disregard this Constitution or any other law.
The Methodist Church of Fiji opposed separation, wanting Fiji to identify as a Christian nation. However, very importantly, both the Church of England and the Catholic Church in Fiji have embraced separation. They seem to have taken Professor Ghai's point that separation of church and state is not 'anti-religion, but just a feeling that the function and responsibility of religion or beliefs within societies should be separated from the functions and policies of the institution of the State.'
The conclusion we could reach from this example is that genuine constitutional separation of church and state may not be possible in the constitutional monarchies of Canada and New Zealand. The republican-style s.116 in the Australian Constitution of Australia's constitutional monarchy is yet to be properly tested. It seems likely however that separation would be more easily achieved if the three nations were republics.
Genuine separation occurs in three possible ways:
- Separation is written into a constitution (Fiji)
- A constitution implies separation and is interpreted that way by the highest court (US)
- Separation is legislated by a parliament (France)
It is widely believed that because a nation does not have an 'established' church - an official, legislated religion of the state (England), or officially promotes a particular religion, there is separation of church and state. But this mistakes partial, conventional separation for complete constitutional separation. Lack of an established church means only what it says: that there is no established church. By itself, it does not guarantee constitutional separation as detailed above.
By conventional separation we mean the notion that because churches do not participate in parliamentary lawmaking it follows there must be separation. This is simplistic because the Australian and New Zealand governments
- Openly support the private beliefs of the religious with the use of public money via tax exemptions and donations for religious activities
- Allow exemptions and exceptions to law that do not apply to others
- Bow to the influence of religion concerning, for example, a woman's right to choose and voluntary euthanasia
- Subsidise proselytism and indoctrination through massive school funding
- Fund or allow religious instruction in public schools.
New Zealand is in the awkward position of being constitutionally compromised by having a major religious figure, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England in England, the Queen, as head of state. The theocratic symbol of 'the Crown' with its Christian cross atop is reconfirmed by the National Anthem, God Defend New Zealand, which is effectively a Christian hymn. Parliament opens with Christian prayer, the flag still has the Union Jack.
One might argue that these are mere remnants of no real importance. So why are they still there, and, in fact, enhanced by the return of knighthoods? What they really are, are symbols of constitutional monarchist power. We are reminded of this every day with the currency we carry in our pockets. Turn over any coin and there is the head of state who also happens to be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England in England. We carry the constitutional position of the British in our pockets.
Is this what we want in 21stC New Zealand? The population is much more multicultural than it was in the 19thC. To many non-Anglo, non-Mori citizens the current system of government may seem non-inclusive. Fiji, on the other hand, plans to remove the Queen's face from its currency; the Queen's birthday public holiday has been abolished; the Union Jack is to be removed from the flag.
We hope that the Constitutional Advisory Panel, when it reports, has heard what was said at Victoria University on 13 July. We need to get lack of constitutional separation of church and state in New Zealand, and the likely reasons for it, openly discussed. The Census is telling us citizens are moving away from religious identification while the government still embraces it. It is doubly ironic that a very small nation, Fiji, with a large majority of citizens who are religious, can define itself constitutionally as a secular state, whereas New Zealand, with a near-majority of citizens who are not religious, cannot.
* Max and Meg Wallace are members of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. Meg Wallace was one of the speakers at the 13 July seminar.
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