New policy on religious materials eyed by Chilliwack school trustees

Furor over distribution of Gideon Bibles sparks debate over who makes policy

The distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary school students in Chilliwack sparked a hot debate Tuesday night among school trustees over who shapes policy in the school district.

Trustees Heather Maas and Martha Weins adamantly opposed a motion directing school district staff to draft a policy on “distributing materials” in Chilliwack schools, saying to do so would be an “abdication” of their responsibility as school trustees.

“We are the policy-makers,” Maas said. “There’s nothing in our policy, nothing in the School Act that says trustees don’t write policy … It’s not taboo.”

Weins charged that trustees backing away from policy-making “don’t want to take a stand.”

But trustees Doug McKay and Walter Krahn argued that district staff are specialists hired for their expertise to research legislation around policy matters and then bring a recommendation to the board for approval.

“I don’t think that’s abdicating, I think that’s doing our job,” McKay said. “We will decide in the end what the policy looks like, but let them (staff) do the research.”

Trustee Barry Neufeld said he wasn’t happy with policy-making being solely in the hands of staff or trustees.

“I would like to have more input from people who are affected,” he said, and not just the dozen or so that spoke at the Tuesday board meeting.

“I would still like to hear more from the community,” he said.

After several versions of the motion were moved and defeated, trustees finally agreed on wording that will see trustees develop the policy, and then staff will provide a draft policy to the board by the end of March.

Trustee Sylvia Dyck apologized for the “odd duck” of the administrative regulation that sparked the controversy in the first place.

The regulation was approved years ago and has been working “silently” ever since, even though a board policy was never created to back it up.

And the regulation was never questioned until last month when parent Richard Ajabu complained about the practice, saying he believes it contravenes the School Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Ajabu told trustees that his daughter had received “advertising material” from the Gideons offering a free Bible and a website where a “gift catalogue” could be found.

“The Gideons themselves state in the FAQ section of their website that the advertising material … is evangelical in purpose and deliberately designed to appeal to children of  that age,” he said.

But several speakers at the board meeting, including Gideon representatives Henry Esau and Peter Harder, spoke passionately about the historical importance of the Bible and its profound influence on western culture and on the “founding principles” of Canada.

“We do not trample on other cultures or religions,” Harder said.

Some supporters argued that instead of restricting the distribution of the Christian Bible, the school board should encourage other religious groups to follow the Gideons’ lead and let them offer their own religious material to school children, in the interests of religious freedom.

Neufeld said he would support a policy that gave all religions equal access, pointing out that many schools in the district take pride in starting events with First Nations prayers.

“I don’t want to see that restricted, nor do I want to see the Gideons restricted,” he said.

But 16-year-old highschool student Rachelle Graham said she believes school should be about eduction, not religion, which is a private matter that students can pursue elsewhere according to their heart’s desire.

“I think going to school should be about the education,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to give a Bible to a 10-year-old kid.”

That point of view was echoed by Chilliwack Teachers’ Association president Clint Johnston.

Recalling the days when school started with a prayer, he pointed out how uncomfortable a child from a religious minority felt when faced with the decision to follow the Christian majority and pray, or risk the embarrassment of being different.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association program director Abby Deshman said there is nothing wrong with exposing children to religious materials.

But when schools teach religion, she said, “the aim is not promotion of one belief over others.”

“Public schools should not be used as a vehicle for proselytism, the promotion of one religion over another, the promotion of religious life over secular life or vice versa,” she said.

The school district’s “odd duck” regulation has now been deleted.

Opinion: Chilliwack school district needs to get back to the basics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Chilliwack holding annual Hazardous Waste Day in early October

The one-day event is a chance to get rid of household things like pesticides and paint cans

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

COLUMN: Don’t be surprised to see hordes of teenagers gathering during this pandemic

The complexity and nuance of public health warnings look like mixed messaging to minds young and old

RCMP escort beaver across busy Chilliwack road

Motorists had to exercise patience as the slow-moving creature crossed several lanes of traffic

Rail traffic starts moving after 60-car derailment near Hope

The 60 cars carrying potash crashed along a rail bridge, clean up is ongoing

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Machine pistol among 14 firearms seized from Alaska man at B.C. border crossing

Corey Scott Kettering faces charges of smuggling and prohibited firearm possession

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Altercation with gunfire in Lower Mainland lands two in hospital

Quiet area of Langley was awoken at 5 a.m. Friday morning to a fight involving gun shots

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

PHOTOS: One injured in shooting on South Surrey-Langley border

Shots reported near 194 Street and 34 Avenue, burned-out vehicle found in 18100-block of 12 Avenue

Report raises questions about COVID outbreak that killed 25 seniors at Langley Lodge

CEO defends leaked document that’s igniting queries about BC’s most deadly COVID outbreak

Most Read