School bibles draw parent complaint

A long-standing tradition that sees some schools handing out bibles to students should be scrapped, says a P.E.I. parent.

A long-standing tradition that sees some schools handing out bibles to students should be scrapped, says a P.E.I. parent.

The offer came as a surprise to Michael Arsenault, whose daughter attends L. M. Montgomery Elementary School in Charlottetown. Last week Arsenault received a notice from the school asking him to fill out a form if he wanted his daughter to opt out of getting a bible from The Gideons.

Arsenault called the school board.

"I'll be held responsible for my child's belief system, not the schools," Arsenault told CBC News Tuesday.

"I'm not against religion, any form or fashion. We've got a wide variety of Bibles here. We even went as far as to spend money to buy an English version of the Qur'an, I just don't like how the schools are getting involved in handing out these religious books."

National issue

The question of whether Bibles should be handed out in schools is one that has been asked across the country.

School boards in Ontario have been left on their own to sort out the question, after Premier Dalton McGuinty passed responsibility for the question to them.

Eastern School District superintendent Ricky Hood says there's nothing in P.E.I.'s School Act that prevents schools from handing out religious material. He has never heard a complaint about it until now.

"I think there's only one line in the School Act, and it talks about being nonsectarian, not being restricted to a particular religious group," said Hood.

"I don't think anyone has pointed this out as contravening anything in the act for the past 30 years or so. I think if there was a local school group that said we don't want access to any of the Bibles, then we would abide by that."

Bibles optional

The Gideons have been offering Bibles to Island schools for 46 years, and for even longer in other parts of Canada.

The current edition includes the New Testament and Psalms, and is offered free for grade five students. There is no discussion of religious issues in the classroom in connection with the handout, and many schools accept the offer. Schools also send home an opt-out form.

In a statement to CBC News from Gideons, spokesman Kelvin Warkentin said it is entirely up to school boards whether to accept the Bibles, that it is not their philosophy to force the issue, and they do not view continuing the distribution as a right.

"It is completely up to them whether or not students be offered a Gideons New Testament," wrote Warkentin.

"We still believe that there is a place for religion in public schools and that shutting out the open discussion of God and other spiritual matters from our public school system will have a long-term detrimental [effect] on our Canadian young people."

Hood said in P.E.I.'s Eastern School District participation in the program is up to school principals, and any complaints should go to the local Home and School.