The Abbotsford school district has stopped distributing free Gideon Bibles to students.
The change was confirmed Tuesday in a message sent by Abbotsford school district superintendent Kevin Godden to Ian Bushfield, the executive director of the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) that speaks for “humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious” in B.C.
“Please be advised that after having reviewed the procedures related to the distribution of materials to students, the district will no longer distribute the Gideon Bible or other religious materials to students,” Godden wrote.
“We were a bit surprised, but happy with the result,” Bushfield told The News.
“Some (school) districts like to dig their heels in.”
The association previously called for the practice to be stopped – most recently in March of this year – and said that it is unconstitutional and in violation of the BC School Act.
“As far as we are aware, Abbotsford was the last public school district in B.C. that was distributing Gideon Bibles in classrooms. So this is a clear recognition that B.C. public schools should be secular and inclusive,” said Ian Bushfield, BCHA executive director.
“It’s a sign to parents and students that they are welcome in Abbotsford whether they’re Christian, Muslim, Sikh, atheist or otherwise.”
The BCHA said the practice was unconstitutional because any promotion of religious materials shows favoritism toward those particular beliefs and against non-beliefs.
The association also argued the policy was a violation of the British Columbia School Act, which requires that public schools “must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles (and) no religious dogma or creed is to be taught …”
In a letter sent this March, Bushfield said if the district wouldn’t end the distribution of Gideon Bibles, it should permit the distribution of Godless Comics, a series of publications that promote a secular point of view.
Prior to the decision, teachers in Abbotsford schools were handing Grade 5 students consent cards provided by Gideons International, a Christian organization.
Those who returned a signed card would then receive a book with the title “Answer Book.” Inside was a copy of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.
The activity was permitted under a school board policy that allowed any organization to request to distribute materials. The Gideons were the only organization that did.
A total of 112 of the bibles were distributed in 21 Abbotsford schools last year.
Michelle Peters, spokesperson for the Gideons International in Canada and Shareword International, said the Gideons were “extremely disappointed” but recognize that distribution of bibles was a privilege “not an inherent right”and bibles, including an app, can still be obtained online.
The Abbotsford school district declined to comment, other than to provide the communication sent to the BCHA :
"Hello Mr. Ian Bushfield,
Pursuant to your email and request below, please be advised that after having reviewed the procedures related to the distribution of materials to students, the district will no longer distribute the Gideon bible or other religious materials to students.
Superintendent of Schools/CEO
Abbotsford School District"
Some of the comments from the MyAbbyNews Facebook page: