Our role in ending Bible readings in BC schools

76 (1) All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles.

(2) The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school.

Since 1872, BC has required schools "be conducted upon strictly secular and non-sectarian principles." Section 76 of today's School Act reflects that language.

In 1936 MLAs added a line that "The Lord's Prayer may be used in opening or closing school," while leaving in the original secular language. They were apparently oblivious to the irony of prayers in schools that are "strictly secular."

In 1944 the provision was expanded to say public schools "shall be opened by the reading, without explanation or comment, of a passage of scripture to be selected from readings prescribed or approved by the Council of Public Instruction. The reading of the passage of scripture shall be followed by the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, but otherwise the schools shall be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality shall be inculcated but no religious dogma or creed shall be taught."

That provision maintained (more or less) intact until the late 1980s.

In 1988, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that a similar provision mandating the Lord's Prayer in Ontario public schools violated the Charter.

Shortly after the ruling was released in Ontario, our president, Glenn Hardie, wrote to BC's Minister of Education and Leader of the Opposition calling for the BC to "move voluntarily and rapidly" to repeal mandatory religious exercises in BC. Anita Hagen, the NDP Spokesperson for Education, replied on behalf of leader Mike Harcourt. Hagen wrote:

The New Democrats will be pushing to change Section 164 which presently calls for the Lord's Prayer and prescriptive bible readings at the opening exercises of each school day.

In our multicultural society, with the many religious and secular beliefs of our citizens, the act should ensure that any teaching about our religious heritage is consistent with the constitution and conducive to a better understanding of our nations ant the world's peoples.

Building off the success in Ontario, parents supported by the BC Civil Liberties Association won a similar victory in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1989. Justice Hollinrake wrote in his decision that he shares "without reservation the views of the majority" of the Ontario Court of Appeal and found the mandatory religious exercises to violate section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (freedom of conscience and religion).

Despite striking the words out of the law, the Government of the day failed to repeal the law and it wasn't until the School Act was further amended in 1996 that the clauses were finally struck out.


Our 1988 correspondence on school prayers

Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education, 1988 CanLII 189 (ON CA), <http://canlii.ca/t/1p77t>

Russow v. B.C. (A.G.), 1989 CanLII 2688 (BC SC), <http://canlii.ca/t/216n5>

A short history of BC education

BCCLA 1969 position paper on Religion in public schools

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