Canada Has Christian Exclusivity Problem Too

Canada Has Christian Exclusivity Problem Too September 3, 2012

I’ve written many times about situations in America where schools allow for the distribution of Christian materials to students but not to material from other groups, but now Canada has a case involving the same thing. A couple wanted to distribute two atheist books in a school where the Gideons were allowed to give out Bibles and were told no.

Rene and Anna Chouinard, who have three children, have been fighting with the board for more than two years to have an age-appropriate publication — Just Pretend: A Free Thought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist — distributed to Grade 5 students…

The fight began after the Chouinards’ refused to sign a consent form for their daughter to distribute Gideon International Bibles at her school.

They then unsuccessfully sought to obtain permission to distribute Just Pretend, citing other groups should be allowed to have their publications distributed in Niagara schools as well…

The Chouinards alleged they were discriminated against “due to creed” and that no material from non-Christian religions were solicited or distributed in the district.

“If they allow Gideon Bibles in the schools, then why can’t other groups distribute their material as well,” he said on Tuesday. “This is not fair for people who may believe in other religions.”

Their case is being heard by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The school says that they were denied because the books contained “inappropriate” material for children, but there’s no indication of what that might be. Hearings should be held soon.

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  • Are such things actually illegal in Canada? After all, they have a monarch who’s officially the defender of the faith, even if they are mostly only a nominal theocracy.

  • Yeah, and because the bible is SO appropriate for children, what with raping and stoning and genocide…All hat kid friendly stuff.

  • It would be kind of fun to start a campaign to apply whatever laws already apply to other books fairly to the bible. You wouldn’t frame it like that of course – I wouldn’t mention the bible by name, only by description:

    This book includes explicit instructions to rape and murder, scenes of incest, fornication, violence, extreme insolence against duly constituted authority figures, and IT’S BEING TAUGHT TO OUR CHILDREN!

  • blf

    Yeah, and because the bible is SO appropriate for children, what with raping and stoning and genocide… All [t]hat kid friendly stuff.

    Grandmother eating wolves, children cooking witches (cooked by children), destroying bear’s property, destroying pig’s houses, enslaving princesses, …. The woolly babble fits right in (except for being quite long and badly written (despite thousands of years of editing)). Your average fairy tale is real kid friendly.

  • iangould

    @ Ace of Sevens: you’re missing one of the key absurdities at the heart of the Westminster system:

    The Crown of England and the Crown of Canada are, legally, two separate entities. They just happen currently to have the same person filling both roles. (She’s also the Great She-Elephant of Lesotho but I’m not sure what that role entails.)

    To illustrate, consider this: as Queen of England Betty Windsor is indeed Defender of the Faith – said faith being the Church of England. However as Queen of Scotland she’s ALSO Defender of the Faith only its a different faith. So when Charles wanted to remarry he couldn’t do it in England since the Church of England prohibits divorcees remarrying. But in Scotland – no problem.(In the end Charles remarried in a civil ceremony in England.)

    So in England she’s the Defender of the Anglican Faith, in Scotland she’s Defender of the Calvinist Faith of the Church of Scotland – and in those dominions where there’s no established church she isn’t defender of anything.

  • Aliasalpha

    Yeah, and because the bible is SO appropriate for children, what with raping and stoning and genocide

    Remember kids, ethnic cleanseliness is next to godliness

  • I am more interested in getting a hold of “Just Pretend”. In case anyone is interested, here it is on Amazon: Although I wish it was available on Kindle…

  • stoferb

    They should ban all religious literature in school and atheism too. Religion and atheism can be explained in unbiased textbooks about comperative religion and philosophy.

  • ibbica

    @iangould, you’re *this* close…

    Technically, the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ in Canada is taken to mean something like “defender of faith in a supreme ruler” (as per PM Louis St Laurent, at least). So you’re right in that it’s not any specific religion, but yeah it *is* still problematic.

    Charles has specified a preference for “Defender of Faith, not the Faith”, which is mildly less offensive, if still irritating. I mean, come on: Laying aside the weirdness around the presence of hereditary monarchies in general, it would be kind of awesome to be able to include “Defender of Science” in your style XD Baby steps, I guess…

  • @ Aliasalpha

    LMAO! That’s the best one I’ve heard in a long time.

  • iangould

    @ibbica, thansk for the correction.

    To the best of my knowledge “Defender of the Faith” just isn’t used in Australia and I assumed Canada would be the same deal.

  • @Ace of Sevens

    Legally, according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the government can’t discriminate on the basis of religion.* There have been similar challenges to Gideon proselytization in Ontario that have been successful.

    *There are a few exceptions. In this context, the most relevant is public funding of separate school boards (in Ontario pretty much equivalent to Catholic schools). This is a constitutional legacy originally designed to accommodate the minority Francophone culture. It is no longer necessary and several provinces have officially completely secularized the school system, including Quebec. There are two options to resolve the situation: go multicultural or go secular. The last time an Ontario political candidate touched the issue, it was to suggest the former solution (i.e. extend funding to other faith schools). There was a public backlash. No party has yet suggested door number two, but personally, I think it would be fairly popular, especially if sold as a money-saver. It’s a little more complicated procedurally because I believe it would involve a constitutional amendment, which is probably why no one’s gone down that road yet.

  • I looked into “Just Pretend” yesterday and it’s the most innocuous, soft-peddled illustrated text you can imagine. It simply points out that gods, like Santa Claus, are just pretend.

    The school board is a secular institution and should not be distributing religious materials. If it does, then all should be allowed. If parents object, then it should forbid all such materials.

  • davidbrown


    There’s a by-election going on in my riding in Ontario right now (Kitchener-Waterloo), and the Green Party has merging the public and separate school boards as an election plank. They don’t have any real chance of taking the riding, but it’s nice to see this brought up as a real campaign issue.

    It’s also worth noting that just last year the Waterloo Public School Board banned the distribution of Gideon Bibles in its schools. What prompted this? “The decision was based in part on the recommendation of legal counsel the board sought in January after the suggestion a Kitchener masjid intended to distribute free Qur’ans through the same program sparked vitriolic reaction.”

    This is not to imply that the school board is anti-Islam; rather they were anti-hassle. Get rid of all these publication distributions, and you get rid of all the problems associated with them. That’s just fine by me.

    Since John Tory brought up the ‘multicultural’ school issue (and got completely trounced for his trouble), the whole issue of separate schools has moved up a little higher in the public agenda. I think that Ontario will follow the other provinces that have gotten rid of separate schools within the next ten to fifteen years.

  • vmanis1

    It has been pointed out that the Crowns of England and Canada are separate, though at present fused in the same person. AFAIK, the Crown of Canada is not considered `Defender of the Faith’ (Fidei Defensor, in Latin; and Charles can freely be `Defender of Faith’ without making any changes, as Latin doesn’t have definite articles). However, our coins do say that Elizabeth II is `D. G. Regina’, `Queen by the Grace of God’. Nobody, even Québec sovereigntists, seems offended by this. I would rather have our coins read `P. G. Regina’, for `per gratiam nativitatis’, i.e., `through the grace of birth’, which would be more accurate.

  • vmanis1

    Oops, that made no sense, sorry about the brainfart. I meant `G. N. Regina’.

  • iknklast

    C’mon, Ed, you don’t need it spelled out for you what’s inappropriate, do you? It’s right there in the title. The title of the book clearly contains the word “Atheist”. Case closed. Don’t even need to read the book to see if it’s offensive, since it’s labeled on the cover as poison.

    Isn’t bigotry fun? (if you’re not the one targeted by the bigots, but we usually are).

  • imthegenieicandoanything

    It’s OK to give out Bibles because NO ONE ever reads the things!

    But the Xian gets extra wickets in their imaginary being account, and the receiver gets to feel bullied!

  • iangould

    So what version of the Bible do the Gideons distribute anyway?

    The ones from the Protestant Tradition or the ones from the Catholic Tradition that include several books not included in the Protestant version?

  • eamick

    (She’s also the Great She-Elephant of Lesotho but I’m not sure what that role entails.)

    That’s an odd one. Lesotho is an independent country with its own king. Unless this is some sort of order of merit, why would they bother?

  • Fidei Defensor (on British coins at least now whittled down to a mere ‘F D’) has always been a bit of a wank-off.

    To quote Wikipedia (which accords pretty-well with what I remember of it):

    “Defender of the Faith” has been one of the subsidiary titles of the English and later British monarchs since it was granted on October 11, 1521, by Pope Leo X to King Henry VIII of England. His wife Catherine of Aragon was also a Defender of the Faith in her own right. The title was conferred in recognition of Henry’s book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments), which defended the sacramental nature of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. This was also known as the “Henrician Affirmation” and was seen as an important opposition to the early stages of the Protestant Reformation, especially the ideas of Martin Luther.

    Following Henry’s decision to break with Rome in 1530 and establish himself as head of the Church of England, the title was revoked by Pope Paul III (since Henry’s act was regarded as an attack on “the Faith”) and Henry was excommunicated. However, in 1544[citation needed], the Parliament of England conferred the title “Defender of the Faith” on King Henry VIII and his successors, now the defenders of the Anglican faith, of which they (except the Catholic Mary I) remain the Supreme Governors (formally above the Archbishop of Canterbury as Primate).

    so there! 🙂

  • NitricAcid

    Elizabeth is the Queen of Canada, but she’s not the Queen of England. She’s the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; calling her the Queen of England is like calling Obama the President of Illinois.

  • NitricAcid

    Oh, look- there’s a poll on the link in the OP. Someone want to page PZ Myers?