Quiet victories

In our campaign for Secular Schools in BC most of our public relations has been focused on Chilliwack and Abbotsford, but our research found a couple other anomalies across the province that are being corrected thanks to quick responses from local trustees.

Okanagan-Similkameen

School district 53 maintains a distribution of materials policy that allows for the distribution of materials in schools; however, the associated regulation prohibits materials “of a commercial, political, religious, or partisan nature.” A different policy, that covers “Advertising, canvassing & commercial solicitation” had a regulation that stated “materials must be non-secular.”

Assuming this was merely a typo, I sent a letter to the district trustees but not the media. The regulation was revised on November 16, 2012 and now appropriately states “materials must be secular.”

Powell River

On November 20th, the Powell River Board of Education discussed their own policy that prohibited the distribution of religious materials with an exception for Gideon Youth Testaments. While I don’t have a full report from that meeting yet, the recommended revision from the agenda [pdf] shows the phrase being deleted from policy 7133(R):

However, the Board permits the distribution of Gideon Testaments to Grade 5 pupils only when parents have requested it by signing the specific consent form.

The main policy on the website hasn’t been updated yet, but I would be surprised if the Board didn’t pass the superintendent’s recommendation.

Update: Sun Media reporter Ada Slivinski confirms on Twitter that the district has deleted the exemption and has no plans to revisit the issue.

In addition to the recent deletion of Regulation 518 in Chilliwack, that makes 3 school board policies made more secular in the past month. Our work isn’t over, but we’re definitely making progress.

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Comments on: "Quiet victories" (3)

  1. It is almost commical the approach being taken in regards to the Gideon’s bible distribution. Just because one religion has decided to distribute the book that represents their religion, does not limit other religions from doing so. In Chilliwack, children were sent home with a permission slip. Parents then decided on whether or not they want their child exposed to such content. School is a place for kids to grow and learn. In order to be a well-rounded person, you have to be educated in a variety of different things. That doesn’t mean you have to believe each of those things, but knowing what they are allows you to firmly make a stand in what you believe. First off, the kids who took advantage of the Gideon’s Bible distribution had their parents consent. Secondly, just because those children had their parents consent, doesn’t mean they would necessarily believe and/or read it. Thirdly, the children who’s parents chose for them not to take part were exposed to another world religion. Once again, they don’t/didn’t have to believe in that religion, but by being exposed to it, it allowed the grade 5 students to realize there are alternative things to believe. That we live in a country where it’s ok to believe what you believe, and it’s ok for another to believe what they believe, even if those beliefs are different. Sure, other religions don’t distribute their books to schools, but they’re not prevented from doing so. Should turban’s be banned from school, as those are worn for religious purpose’s and for the students who don’t believe the religion the turban is representing, should they then be offended that religion is getting mixed in to their education, even though we live in a free country, where it’s up to the individual to decide what they’re going to believe, and not the government or the school system, or a company who distributes bibles? No they shouldn’t, because in life we as humans have to learn to make deicisions in what we stand for and don’t stand for, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to agree with our decisions, and that doesn’t mean they’re going to hide their decision because it’s different from yours! Why is it ok for Jehovah’s Witnesses to come to someone’s household door, which is private property, and educate you on their beliefs, whether you like it or not, but a place where one is suppose to be educated, a school, it is suddenly not ok? By banning/encouraging the government to ban the distribution of the Gideon’s bibles, you’re teaching children to keep their mouth shut. That what they believe has no place in their education, and that they must separate the two, instead of learning about how they can incoorporate both their religion/belief and their education in to their everyday lives.

    • David R. said:

      Ariel, I intend to look at your message point-by-point. Please excuse any misunderstanding on my part.
      1) “Just because one religion…does not limit other religions.” Well, this is not true. The wording for the policies involved are quite explicit in limiting distribution to a single text by a single form of a single religion, and there seems no evidence of attempts to include additional faiths. As anecdotal support, consider the case of S.D. 23 on Nov. 12, 1997, when it was decided by the school board that the Gideon Bible could be distributed along with other religious texts, but both the motion to inform other religious groups of this decision and the motion to make the multi-faith decision explicitly reiterated were defeated. We are not discussing a situation of equality.
      2) “School is a place for kids to grow and learn.” Even in the context of religion, I doubt you will find many who disagree with you on this point. However, we need to be precise; B.C.’s schools are, according to section 76 of the School Act, secular and non-sectarian.
      3) “First off, the kids…had their parents consent.” A 1990 Ontario decision (CCLA v. Elgin County) summarizes the difference nicely: The school may sponsor the study of religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion, and the school may expose students to all religious views, but may not impose any particular view. You may note that the parental approval is not an element in either statement (there are an additional six that I omitted, although the are quite similar); parents may not give schools permission to behave in a manner that is prohibited by the School Act.
      4) “…doesn’t mean they would necessarily believe and/or read it….” This point concedes to my general disagreement of your post without any effort on my part. If your claim is that material should be acceptable because it may be ignored, you are hardly promoting the material.
      5) “…were exposed to another world religion.” I assume that this additional religion was studied in an academic setting, in which case all students would have had exposure and it would take the form of a secular, structured unit plan with the goal of increasing societal understanding. This is commendable, this is scholastic, and this is a rough list of virtues that distributing the Gideon Bible failures to demonstrate. Studying world religions in Social Studies does not support your point, it is the refutation of it.
      6) “Should turban’s be banned from school…?” I will admit that this point is more nuanced than my response allows for, but the essential consideration is whether a school’s allowance of religious garb could be seen as the school promoting a religion, as distributing religious text clearly is. Please keep in mind that secular does not necessarily require a religious-free environment, but instead one in which the state (and its representatives) cannot be interpreted as favouring one religion over another, religion over non-religion, or even non-religion over religion (I appeal again the my small preamble). Instead of a turban, compare a student who chooses to read the bible during silent reading to the distribution of the Gideon Bible. In the former, the state has done nothing to promote or impede the student, and so has remained secular. In the latter, the state has clearly become involved.
      7) ” …not the government or the school system, or a company who distributes bibles?” Well…exactly. Where we seem to disagree is that I see the act of distributing the bibles to be the government’s over reach, whereas you see it to be the cessation of the that act. Imagine that, instead of religion, the schools distributed pamphlets in support of one, and only one, political party. What would be the extension of state into politics: the distribution, or the cessation?
      8)”…Jehovah’s Witnesses…private property…a school, it is suddenly not ok?” First, it is permissible only legally. Whether or not the unwanted visits are moral or polite is a separate, important, but irrelevant issue. Legally, it is permissible for an individual to walk up to your door (barring physical obstructions, which you are free to create within the limits of your community’s zoning laws). Legally, it is permissible for an individual to offend you with their beliefs. Legally, it is permissible for you to not answer you door, or put up a sign requested no such visits take place, or have a rigorous debate. You are both private citizens and, assuming no one loiters, threatens/commits violence, etc, the state does not and should not intervene. So far as public schools and guiding laws are considered, teachers/priests/publishers do not have free rein to proselytize. A religious adherent may not behave as one might at a private residence because that would be inculcation; schools are for instruction. State entities, schools in particular, are not in the business of promoting religion in the way that supplying bibles would suggest. They are in the business of studying the material academically.
      9) “…you’re teaching children to keep their mouth shut…”
      On the one hand, I must point out that religion in the form relevant to this discussion does not have a place in education. Likewise, atheism does not have a place in education. The active promoting of any one belief system (core values aside) has no place in education. The state does not have the privilege/responsibility of prioritizing a worldview for its citizens. On the other hand, school libraries typically have a copy of the bible and the koran, or at least make no effort to discourage access to such texts on line. No one is telling students to leave religion at the door, but it should not be waiting for them in class.

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