Board of education will not review Bible issue, says chairman

John Sutherland said the issue of Gideons International distributing Bibles to Grade 5 students has not raised concerns in Abbotsford.

John Sutherland

John Sutherland

The practice of Gideons International providing free Bibles to Grade 5 students whose parents give permission will not be reviewed by the Abbotsford board of education, despite attention to the issue in Chilliwack.

Chairman John Sutherland said the district has not had individuals in the community express concern about the matter.

“The Gideons have been handing out Bibles in North American longer than I have lived … so this is nothing new,” he said.

“We’re not making an issue of it.”

The Chilliwack school board plans to discuss the issue at its public meeting on Tuesday night, following concerns expressed by the B.C. Humanist Association.

The group is calling for the Chilliwack school board to reverse its policy. Executive director Ian Bushfield said in a press release that the distribution of free Bibles is contrary to the Public Schools Act of B.C., which states that schools should be operated “on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles.”

Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Powell River are the only districts in B.C. that  participate in the program, which provides Bibles to Grade 5 students with parental consent.

Sutherland said the issue “crops up every once in awhile” in Abbotsford, but the board of education has no concerns that the Schools Act is being violated. This would only be the case if teachers themselves, rather than a member of Gideons International, were distributing the Bibles, he said.

Sutherland said he has attended educational conferences in the United States, and the topic of Gideons Bibles has come up. In a nation that has clear laws about the separation of church and state, the Bibles continue to be distributed the same way they are in Canada, he said.

He said only about 10 Grade 5 classes in Abbotsford received the Bibles last year.

Sutherland said the district would be open to having materials from other religions made available to local students, but no other group has made that request.