The end of Bible distribution in BC Schools

The distribution of Gideon Bible in BC actually only ended in December 2016.

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Today's story goes back to 2012 when we heard from a parent out in the Fraser Valley that his kid had received a permission slip for a Gideon Bible.

When we looked into it, we found the Chilliwack School District had a policy authorizing the explicit distribution of Gideon Bibles, and only those materials, to students. This prompted us to survey every school district policy across the province. After reviewing those public records, we identified a number of districts that had similar policies allowing the distribution of religious materials.

Some explicitly just said they would distribute Gideon Bible like the Sunshine Coast School District. Although they actually hadn't distributed Bibles in a few years. So after we wrote to them, they thankfully removed that policy right away.

Another district in the South Okanagan had a policy that said that only "non secular" materials could be distributed. That seemed to be a typo and they updated that policy fairly promptly after we wrote to them so that only secular materials can be distributed.

The most notable districts were Chilliwack and Abbotsford, where we had reports of Gideon Bible distribution in public school classrooms. And this is despite the BC School Act explicitly requiring all schools be "strictly secular and non-sectarian." Sometimes the law is better than policy on the ground.

So we continued to lobby the Chilliwack and Abbotsford school boards, calling on them to end their policy.

The school boards were largely run by people who were quite religious. There are a lot of conservative evangelical Christians in the Fraser Valley. Although, notably it's been shifting over the number of years, and the school boards have been getting increasingly progressive in recent years. But at the time they had no desire to change their policy.

Chilliwack did undergo a process to update their policy from distributing Gideon Bible to every Grade five student to allowing the superintendent to approve the distribution of religious materials upon request by an organisation. We spoke at the School Board, asking them not to adopt the policy but our pleas went unheard.

Over in Ontario, another parent won a human rights complaint against the Niagara School Board over the same issue of Gideon Bible distribution. Otherwise, there was (and still is) seemingly no precedent in Canadian law where a parent had to challenge Bible distribution in the classroom.

In 2015, Centre for Inquiry Canada requested permission to distribute a book by Richard Dawkins, after which the district admitted Bibles were no longer being distributed.

Abbotsford dug their heels in a little bit more, and we ultimately had to ask to distribute our own materials. Specifically, we were granted permission to reproduce an edition of Godless Comics but the district seem to have no desire to that and instead also just stopped distributing all religious materials.

We called their bluffs and we won.

We identified one more school district that was still distributing Gideon Bibles: Cariboo-Chilcotin School District in Northern BC. Together with the local teacher's union, we asked the district to stop the distribution and they agreed without much of a fight.

As we like to say, often yelling at people works. This is what we do as an Association, among other things, such as building a community for humanists and the non-religious. We've done a lot on advocacy and fighting for secularism in BC schools.

So please considering joining the fight or making a donation to support our efforts.

Note that in 2021, Gideons International in Canada was renamed to ShareWorld Global.

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