The BC Humanist Association (BCHA) joins teachers and the President of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers' Association (CCTA) in celebrating School District No 27 decision to end its policy of distributing Gideon Bibles to grade 5 students in the district.
In a phone call in response to the BCHA, SD 27 confirmed today that it would "not permit" the practice to continue. The BCHA argued in a November 29, 2016 letter, that the distribution violates the School Act's requirement that schools be "strictly secular and non-sectarian" and arguably also puts the district in breech of the Charter by promoting one religious viewpoint to the exclusion of others.
The BCHA had asked whether the District would allow other religious or atheist materials, including editions of Godless Comics, to be distributed, if it refused to cease distributing bibles.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association said:
The School Act and Canadian court rulings are explicitly clear: Our governments must be strictly neutral on religion.
Despite this, some Districts keep the practice in place because no one speaks up. We're now looking at whether any other policies remain across the province.
Following similar complaints by the BCHA, the Abbotsford School District confirmed it would end distribution of Gideon Bibles in June. Similar pressure forced the Chilliwack School District to end the practice in 2015.
On October 11, 2016, Acting Superintendent of Schools Mark Wintjes circulated a memo to staff explaining that the district allows Gideons to provide school offices with consent cards that students can exchange for Bibles. Individual schools may either provide the cards through teachers or make them available at the office.
On October 26, Murray Helmer, the CCTA President, wrote to Wintjes stating that he'd "been approached by a number of teachers with concerns" and that he believed allowing the distribution of bibles to be a violation of the BC School Act. He asked for the district to reconsider its policy. Wintjes acknowledged the letter on October 27 and said they "will certainly have a closer look at this long standing practice within our school district."
In 2012, the BCHA reviewed the published policies of every school district in BC and isn't aware of any other districts in BC that permit the distribution of Gideon Bibles. To confirm whether this is the reality in schools, the BCHA has also written to every other public school district and will report its findings in early 2017.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin School District No 27 is located in the Central Interior of British Columbia and includes the communities of 100 Mile House and Williams Lake.
The BC Humanist Association provides a community and a voice for the nearly 70% of British Columbians who are not religious. The BCHA is supported entirely by individual donations. Consider making a donation to help us continue our work.