Religious advertising continues in Abbotsford schools

Christian summer camps, parenting workshops and the Gideon Bibles are being advertised through Abbotsford schools, despite neighbouring Chilliwack having recently ended the practice.

In April, the Chilliwack School District confirmed it had ended the distribution of Gideon Bible permission slips to fifth grade students. But while most secularists attention has been directed to Chilliwack, the Abbotsford School Board has refused to revisit its own distribution of materials policy.

So, after receiving a response from the Chilliwack School District, I sent a similar freedom of information request to the Abbotsford School District to find out what religious (and atheist/humanist) materials were being distributed in its schools.

Its response shows that Gideon Bible permission slips are being distributed in most of the District’s elementary schools (13 in 2013-14 and 28 in 2014-15). Additionally, churches are using the policy to advertise Christian summer camps, parenting seminars, and other special events. The only non-Christian event advertised in the past two school years was an anti-radicalism event hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Replying on behalf of the School District, Communications Manager Dave Stephen told me that many of the events are promoted “via inclusion on a ‘community’ events webpage, on the school district website, rather than distribution of printed materials. The one main exception would be the Gideon’s who request distribution of consent cards.”

There's nothing inherently wrong with churches being allowed to advertise inclusive community events on the School District’s website, provided that space is equally available to non-religious and atheist groups. In the next year, with our affiliates in the Fraser Valley Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists, we’ll look to put this policy to the test.

Abbotsford is also the only school district in BC with a policy to make abstinence “a primary focus” of its human sexuality curriculum and requires external speakers to “agree to speak in favour of abstinence and refrain from statements that would compromise the pro-abstinence stance.” We’ve challenged this policy before and will work with other organizations to make sure secular comprehensive sex education is available in all BC public schools.

But we can only make that happen with your help. Please donate to the BCHA to support our ongoing Secular Schools campaign.

Read the response from the Abbotsford School District.

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