Pastor Leon Throness of Chilliwack Alliance Church says he is “sad” that Gideon Bibles are being forced out of the district’s schools.

Pastor Leon Throness of Chilliwack Alliance Church says he is “sad” that Gideon Bibles are being forced out of the district’s schools.

Petition calls for end to Bible distribution

BC Humanist Association launches petition to prevent Chilliwack school board from allowing the distribution of religious material in schools

The Chilliwack school district is the last in the province that permits the distribution of Gideon Bibles in its schools, but the bastion is at risk of toppling, and the people of Chilliwack remain eerily silent on the issue.

An influential humanist group has launched an online petition to prevent the Chilliwack school board from introducing a policy that allows the distribution of religious material in public schools. Currently, the board does not have a policy outlining materials distribution, religious or otherwise. The only exception was a note specifically permitting the Gideons to supply bibles to Grade 5 students, with parental approval. The board deleted the note at the Nov. 13, 2012, school board meeting, and agreed to draft a new materials policy by the end of March 2013.

The Vancouver-based BC Humanist Association launched an online petition last week that calls on the Chilliwack school board to “abandon its plans for a new policy permitting the distribution of materials.” Since the petition went live Jan. 29 on change.org, it has garnered over 180 signatories.

BCHA president Ian Bushfield says providing religious material in public schools violates Section 76 of the BC School Act, which states that all schools must operate “on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles.”

“Our schools should be secular, and not promoting religious ideology,” argues Bushfield, who says there are approximately six BCHA members in Chilliwack.

This uproar is a first for the Chilliwack school district. In the 20 years that trustee Barry Neufeld has been with the board, no one has publicly complained about the Gideons delivering bibles through schools. And so far, the Chilliwack school board has not heard from representatives of the local religious community on the issue. The board itself has not picked a side.

“What we do not want is any religion trying to proselytize and convert children to their belief. Giving one faith group or ideology preference over another is what is not allowed in the School Act,” says Neufeld.

All the same, Neufeld believes it is “absolutely impossible” to fully separate religion from the school system. Banning bible distribution puts a host of other school traditions on the chopping block, such as singing Christmas carols, and renting public school space to faith groups on the weekends – a practice that hauls $200,000 in to the Chilliwack school system every year. Removing all religious affiliation from the district would cause a “major upheaval” in the community, says Neufeld.

Pastor Throness from the Chilliwack Alliance Church concurs.

“If there’s a petition to ban all religious stuff for children, then it’s not simply a matter of whether we distribute bibles or not,” he says.

And removing all religious material from school means subscribing to a humanist viewpoint.

“If you are going to go completely secular in a school system, you are pushing a life philosophy,” says Pastor Throness, who is “sad” that Gideon Bibles are being forced out of schools because he believes they have a role in teaching morality to children.

The school board has not responded to BCHA’s petition, says Heather Maahs, chair of the Education Policy Advisory Committee. This is despite the fact that last week, for every new petition signatory, Maahs received a notification in her inbox – a nuisance that she has requested the organization to cease. The school trustees plan to formulate a new materials distribution policy based on stakeholder consultations, and present it at the school board meeting at the end of March. There is no plan for a public forum.

Meanwhile, the BCHA is collecting signatures throughout February, to deliver to the school board in March. Additionally, Chilliwack parent Richard Ajabu, who initially registered the complaint about the distribution of religious materials at the November school board meeting, has sent an official letter to the Minister of Education calling for the termination of the entire Chilliwack school board for failing to uphold the B.C. School Act.

Gideon Bibles used to be distributed all over the province, recalls Neufeld, but gradually schools have succumbed to pressure from secularist and faith-based groups. Chilliwack now stands alone in B.C. in facilitating the Bibles’ distribution, which it has done for about 70 years. Of the 800 Grade 5 students in Chilliwack, 10 per cent or so accept to receive the Bible every year. The Gideons aren’t scheduled to send out another round of Bibles until Oct. 2013.

akonevski@theprogress.com

twitter.com/WriteInBC

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

Just Posted

Ripy Jubbal of Abbotsford has received a 30-month jail sentence for the fraudulent use of credit cards and credit card data. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford woman sentenced for $80K in fraudulent credit card purchases

Ripy Jubbal and spouse used identities of 19 different victims, court hears

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. (File photo)
UPDATE: 2 cougars killed following attack in Harrison Mills

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

....
Abbotsford graphic designer pitches Flyers rebrand for AHL team

Alex Svarez suggests new affiliate team turns back the clock and brings back Flyers moniker

Mike Haire, a former vice-principal at W. A. Fraser Middle School in Abbotsford, began court proceedings on Monday, May 3 in New Westminster for two child pornography offences.
Trial paused for former Abbotsford vice-principal charged with child porn

Judge reserves decision on admissibility of evidence against Mike Haire

Abbotsford’s Jake Virtanen is now under investigation from the Vancouver Police Department following sexual misconduct allegations. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Vancouver police investigating sexual misconduct claims against Canucks’ Jake Virtanen

Abbotsford native remains on leave with the Vancouver Canucks following recent allegations

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Most Read