The Province

BI­B­LI­CAL TEXT BAN URGED

AB­BOTS­FORD: Anti-re­li­gion group wants to end ‘pros­e­ly­tiz­ing’ in school class­rooms

- JEN­NIFER SALTMAN jen­salt­man@post­media.com twit­ter.com/jen­salt­man Society · Discrimination · Education · Atheism · Human Rights · Religion · British Columbia · Ministry of Human Resource Development · Abbotsford · Abbotsford School District · Gideons International · Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

Athe­ists want the Ab­bots­ford School Dis­trict to stop dis­tribut­ing re­li­gious ma­te­ri­als to stu­dents

A group of B.C. athe­ists is ask­ing the Ab­bots­ford School Dis­trict to stop dis­tribut­ing re­li­gious ma­te­ri­als — in­clud­ing bi­b­li­cal texts sup­plied by the Gideons — to stu­dents in its pub­lic schools.

“Our pref­er­ence would be for no re­li­gious ad­ver­tis­ing us­ing school re­sources. We can have a sort of ob­jec­tive dis­cus­sion about re­li­gion, but we don’t want to see pros­e­ly­tiz­ing in class­rooms,” said Ian Bush­field, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the B.C. Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion. “The Bi­bles are, of course, the flash­point.”

Each year, teach­ers in the school dis­trict dis­trib­ute con­sent cards, pro­vided by lo­cal chap­ters of The Gideons In­ter­na­tional in Canada, to Grade 5 stu­dents.

Those who re­turn a signed card can go to the school of­fice to pick up a small, red book with photos of chil­dren on the front and the ti­tle, “An­swer Book.” Inside is in­for­ma­tion and a copy of the New Tes­ta­ment, Psalms and Proverbs.

Ac­cord­ing to the dis­trict, in the 2014-15 school year, 112 of the books were given to Grade 5 stu­dents at 21 el­e­men­tary schools. The dis­trict has 30 el­e­men­tary schools.

Ab­bots­ford School Dis­trict spokesman Dave Stephen said there hasn’t been a re­quest from the Gideons so far this school year to dis­trib­ute con­sent cards. The cards are usu­ally dis­trib­uted in the fall.

Bush­field be­lieves Ab­bots­ford is the last school dis­trict in B.C. that still dis­trib­utes the Gideon con­sent cards and bi­b­li­cal texts.

In 2012, the hu­man­ist as­so­ci­a­tion sup­ported a Chilli­wack par­ent’s quest to stop his lo­cal school dis­trict from dis­tribut­ing the cards and books. The dis­trict changed its pol­icy the next year. At the time, Ab­bots­ford de­clined to do the same.

One Ab­bots­ford par­ent said she doesn’t look for­ward to the prospect of re­ceiv­ing a Gideon con­sent form next school year, when her first child reaches Grade 5.

“I’m re­ally shocked that this still ex­ists out here in Ab­bots­ford. We don’t hand out copies of the Qur’an, we don’t hand out copies of any other re­li­gious ma­te­rial,” Tara Macrae said. “It does not be­long in the pub­lic school sys­tem what­so­ever.”

Macrae com­plained to the dis­trict in De­cem­ber af­ter her chil­dren came home with brochures from Ath­letes in Ac­tion — a divi­sion of Power to Change Min­istries. She’s not a mem­ber of the B.C. Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion, but agrees with the group’s stance.

Dur­ing spring break, Bush­field sent a let­ter to the school dis­trict’s su­per­in­ten­dent ask­ing him to cease hand­ing out Gideon con­sent forms and texts be­cause it vi­o­lates a sec­tion of the B.C. School Act.

“We see it as us­ing school re­sources to pro­mote a re­li­gious world view,” Bush­field said.

Stephen said the is­sue will be re­viewed.

He added that cur­rent prac­tice is for such events and ac­tiv­i­ties to be posted in the com­mu­nity and par­ent in­for­ma­tion sec­tion of the dis­trict web­site, be­cause the dis­trict wants to get away from dis­tribut­ing printed ma­te­ri­als to class­rooms. Faith-based groups are asked to iden­tify them­selves as such in post­ings.

Asked if the Gideon con­sent forms could end up on­line, Stephen said: I think that’s ab­so­lutely some­thing that we could look at.”

Bush­field said his or­ga­ni­za­tion also takes is­sue with faith-based groups post­ing on the dis­trict site.

Bush­field said the as­so­ci­a­tion is hold­ing off on any fur­ther ac­tion un­til it re­ceives a re­sponse from the Ab­bots­ford School Dis­trict.

How­ever, if the dis­trict fails to change its pol­icy, the as­so­ci­a­tion will at­tempt to have an athe­ist comic dis­trib­uted to stu­dents. If that re­quest is de­nied, there could be a le­gal chal­lenge based on the Cana­dian Charter of Rights and Free­doms.

When asked about its po­si­tion on the mat­ter, the pro­vin­cial Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion re­sponded in an emailed state­ment that the School Act pro­vides lo­cally elected boards of ed­u­ca­tion with broad au­thor­ity to set lo­cal poli­cies.

“We don’t hand out copies of the Qur’an, we don’t hand out copies of any other re­li­gious ma­te­rial.”

— Par­ent Tara Macrae

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 ?? MARK VAN MA­NEN/PNG ?? Ian Bush­field of the B.C. Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion says his group wants the Ab­bots­ford School Dis­trict to halt the distri­bu­tion of Gideon bi­b­li­cal pas­sages in pub­lic schools.
MARK VAN MA­NEN/PNG Ian Bush­field of the B.C. Hu­man­ist As­so­ci­a­tion says his group wants the Ab­bots­ford School Dis­trict to halt the distri­bu­tion of Gideon bi­b­li­cal pas­sages in pub­lic schools.

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