BIBLICAL TEXT BAN URGED
ABBOTSFORD: Anti-religion group wants to end ‘proselytizing’ in school classrooms
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