Bible distribution in Abbotsford schools draws criticism

Students get Bibles after returning consent cards handed out by teachers.

Grade 5 students in Abbotsford school district receive these consent cards that parents can sign for their children to receive a 'New Testament Answer Book'

The Abbotsford school district has been asked to stop the distribution of Gideon bibles in schools by a group of atheists.

Teachers in Abbotsford schools hand Grade 5 students consent cards provided by Gideons International, a Christian organization. Those who return a signed card then receive a book with the title “Answer book.” Inside is a copy of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.

The activity is permitted under a school board policy that allows any organization to request to distribute materials. The Gideons are the only organization that has utilized the practice to this point.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) called for the practice to be stopped, saying it is unconstitutional and in violation of the BC School Act. If the activity isn’t stopped, the BCHA is asking the district to allow it to distribute an atheist-themed comic.

“The district cannot hide behind consent cards, as even those have the effect of singling out students on the basis of their beliefs,” said Ian Bushfield, executive director of the BCHA. Bushfield said Abbotsford is the only district he is aware of that allows the distribution of Gideon bibles to students.

The organization said it takes issue with the distribution of materials promoting any religion, and that equal opportunities must be given to beliefs that reject the existence of a god.

This isn’t the first time that bibles in Abbotsford schools have drawn criticism. In 2013, a Godson elementary parent said she was upset after her child was offered a bible in school without receiving or submitting a consent card.

Abbotsford school district spokesperson Dave Stephen said the district will review the letter and its arguments. He said 112 of the bibles were distributed in 21 schools last year.

The district is moving away from allowing material for camps and other events to be handed out in schools and instead encouraging community organizations of all stripes to publicize their events on a page on the district’s website. Stephen said the district could similarly look at moving the bible consent form online.

In 2012, the Chilliwack school district was criticized for a similar practice that saw Gideon bibles being distributed in its schools. The following year, that school district amended its policy and removed a regulation specifically endorsing the Gideons’ activity.

After the Chilliwack issue drew attention, the Abbotsford board of education said it was not planning to amend its policies.

Last year, Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld said the Gideon bibles, though not endorsed by the district, are made readily available for anyone who asks.

“Instead of sending out promotional literature to the kids, our policy now is just to mention it on the school newsletter and if anybody’s interested they can contact the school and they can pick up a Gideon bible if they want,” Neufeld said. “And I think it’s expanded; it’s not just available to Grade 5.”

On its website, Gideons International says: “To fulfill their role in the community, school boards today have developed policies to treat all religious groups fairly. In most cases, schools send a letter home to their students’ parents, informing them of the opportunity to receive a New Testament provided by The Gideons. Parents then have the option to refuse or accept the gift. This opportunity is available to any religious group who would like to offer a religious book of their own.

“In providing New Testaments to students, we are offering a book we believe has value to people of all ages – even children in Grade 5.”

Just Posted

Surrey council approves free two-hour parking at city hall, around hospital

Although council gave its blessing to offer the free parking Monday (Nov. 19), it was already made free last week

Surrey School District says it needs 7 new schools in next decade

Surrey council endorsed the district’s 2019-20 capital plan on Monday, Nov. 19

Surrey Fire Service to provide non-emergency dispatch services for Port Moody

It’s said the move will bring in more than $9,000 a year for the City of Surrey

Second person dies following head-on collision in Surrey

Paige Nagata of Abbotsford was in crash on Nov. 4 that also killed Sarah Dhillon

Man still in hospital after struck by car in Surrey last week

The man was airlifted to hospital with “potential life-threatening” injuries after the incident

White Rock pier light show

Dancing lights highlighted off the water front

Laine scores 3 as Jets double Canucks 6-3

Injury-riddled Vancouver side drops sixth in a row

Deportation averted for Putin critic who feared return to Russia

Elena Musikhina, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, has been granted a two-year visitor’s permit in Canada

B.C. to allow Uber-style ride hailing services to operate in late 2019

Fee will be applied to fund options for disabled people

Auditor general takes aim at Liberals’ fighter-jet plan

Suditor general Michael Ferguson is about to release a new report on Canada’s attempts to buy new fighter jets

B.C. couple converts ambulance into a traveling home

The Revelstoke couple plan on touring B.C. ski hills then driving to Mexico

Cyclist defecates, throws own poop at car following B.C. crash

Man defecates in the street before throwing it at a driver locked in her vehicle

11 years sought for Burnaby man who killed girlfriend with hammer, burned her body

Manslaughter sentencing hearing started Monday in Chilliwack for Ryan Armstrong

Jamie Koe, other curlers kicked out of bonspiel for being too drunk

‘You don’t kick around other players’ bags, it’s disrespectful and we expect better of our players’

Most Read