British Columbia

Gideons versus Godless: Abbotsford public schools criticized for distributing bibles

Tara MacRae was a little miffed when both her son and daughter came home from school with a brochure for a basketball program run by a Christian organization.

'It feels like I've gone back to 1942 ... saying no, you can't be handing out bibles in public schools'

Consent form sent home with Grade 5 public school children in Abbotsford. (CBC)

Abbotsford mother Tara MacRae was a little miffed when both her son and daughter came home from elementary school with a brochure for a Christian basketball program — Athletes in Action — that "encourages players to discover a relationship with Jesus Christ," according to its website.

"I didn't think it was appropriate because they have bible study as part of the program," said MacRae ."Distributing religious materials in the public school system is not appropriate and I think it contravenes our school act."

Free bibles

Last year the Abbotsford school district also sent home a consent form offering a free Gideons bible to all Grade 5 students. As a result, 112 bibles where distributed in Abbotsford public schools. 

MacRae says schools in Abbotsford seem out of step with the rest of the province. 

"We moved  here in July from Coquitlam," she said. "I grew up in Vancouver. I'm 39 now and we certainly didn't get handed out bibles. And prayers had stopped long before I entered school. So it feels like I've gone back to 1942. Coming to this district where I have to say, 'no you can't be handing out bibles in our public school system.' It's crazy."

The B.C. Humanist Association believes it's also unconstitutional, not to mention unfair.

Ian Bushfield is executive director of the BC Humanist Association which describes itself as a voice for atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia. (bchumanist.ca)

"We think schools shouldn't be a venue for religious groups to proselytize to children," said Ian Bushfield, executive director of the BCHA. "We'd rather see objective and equal discussion of religion."

Godless Comics

The BCHA has sent a letter to Abbotsford school superintendent Kevin Godden asking the district stop distributing religious materials.

Bushfield says if Gideons is allowed to distribute material through the Abbotsford school system, his organization should be granted equal access to hand out a publication called Godless Comics.

"The comics provide arguments for why some people don't believe in God," stated Bushfield. 

The BC Humanist Association believes it should be permitted to distribute Godless Comics in Abbotsford public schools if Gideon bible distribution continues. (Godless Comics)

Abbotsford school district communication manager Dave Stephen told CBC News usually he or the superintendent decides what material is handed out in schools. Stephen says the letter from the BCHA "will be reviewed in due course by our district administration."

"To be clear the only [religious group] who has ever approached the district is Gideons...and they're the only one we've ever engaged with at this level. So it's been, I guess, a legacy arrangement going on for some years in this district."

"Anybody has the ability to submit materials for distribution," said Stephen. "But now we're going to review the whole question so I'm not sure where we'll land."

'They didn't answer my question'

MacRae said she wrote both the Minster of Education and the Abbotsford school district with her concerns. Only the district sent a reply, advising that they would no longer be sending paper material home with students.

"They didn't answer my question," she said. "The didn't actually respond to whether they agreed or disagreed that distributing religious materials was appropriate."

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