A School Administrator Says Handing Out Bibles to Children is Not Religious Indoctrination

In Prince Edward Island, Canada, giving public school children a copy of the Gideon Bible has been the tradition for decades.

But just because something is tradition doesn’t mean it’s right. (Just ask Jessica Ahlquist.)

Image via Shutterstock

And one parent is finally pushing back:

“I’ll be held responsible for my child’s belief system, not the schools,” Michael Arsenault told the local CBC.

“I’m not against religion, any form or fashion… I just don’t like how the schools are getting involved in handing out these religious books.”

Makes sense. So what did the superintendent of the district have to say about it? He doesn’t even understand what the problem is:

Eastern School District, the board that has forged the long-standing agreement with Gideons, said L.M. Montgomery Elementary School in Charlottetown, where Mr. Arsenault sends his daughter, is not at all engaging in religious education by allowing the books to be handed out. It’s merely offering a service.

“We don’t think it’s providing religion in the school,” said Ricky Hood, superintendent of education. “It’s not talked about, there are no classes, there’s no instructional time devoted to it. No students are held captive to any of this.”

It’s just a service?! Great. Then they won’t mind if atheists send along 32984234 copies of The God Delusion to hand out to the kiddies.

Looks like that type of reaction has worked before:

But the [Waterloo Regional District School Board] rescinded its decision [to hand out Bibles only with parental permission] in June after the suggestion that a Kitchener masjid wanted to hand out free Korans through the same program caused a community uproar.

Beautiful. (Don’t you love watching Christians whine when their myths aren’t given special privileges?)

It doesn’t matter that no one has complained before. When you see how much backlash there is against anyone who complains about the Bible Giveaways, it shouldn’t be surprising that people are scared to do it. At least Mr. Arsenault has the courage to speak out against it.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/thelittlepecan Alana (aka Pecan)

    The Gideons are an awful organization. I don’t want their grubby hands (or stuff their hands have touched) anywhere near children.  I’m sure there’s a copy of the Bible in the school library. If kids want one, let them check it out from there.

    • Alex

      Aside from spreading santorum bullshit, what makes them so awful?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_POBNPRAX3ZQKUBJF3XAG3WLI4A Tracy

      I was given a bible at age six, but didn’t read it until age seventeen.  I was floored that I’d had that sitting on my shelf all those years, with stories that would make a truck driver blush, but my mother wouldn’t let me read Clan of the Cave Bear until I was twelve.  Parents really need to read that sucker before they hand it to their children.  Definitely not PG.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Larter/736727030 Mike Larter

    I’ve wanted to contact the Eastern School Board about this, I live on PEI and want ask them if they would let me had out free copies of “The God Delusion”, but I’ve felt held back as I can’t actually follow through on my offer, is there any way to discuss this with them without having to commit to bankrupting myself to get a point across?

    • Pureone

      You could simply find a pile of free “Watchtower” or used Dianetics (less than $5/ea).  While it would be nice to have our materials handy fro those crisp young minds, bringing in fringe religious items serves the same purpose- to put an end to it.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Pretty sure the LDS would be more than happy to donate free copies of the Book of Mormon.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, I’m not sure this would have the same effect in Canada as it would in the US. As pointed out in other comments, we have a tradition of multiculturalism and I would expect that school officials would at least publicly welcome God Delusions, Qu’rans, Complete Books of Wicca, and whatever else was donated for the kids. They wouldn’t want to appear like bigots.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

      A giveaway like this is something I’d be interested in. But is ‘The God Delusion’ the best book to give out…?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Larter/736727030 Mike Larter

        I admit, it’s not the most age appropriate material, but it’s the one that get’s the message out in the title.  I would much rather “The Magic of Reality”, but I’m not sure if they would get the message. 

    • OkayWithThe

      Qu’rans? There are organizations that hand them out for free, IIRC, so you might be able to get something together. Of course you wouldn’t do it for the message, more for the controversy ;)

      Maybe just offer to give them a cheaply printed pamphlet summarizing atheism or something?

      If they deny either, it’ll just help to highlight their hypocrisy.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

      Mike, 

      I did my graduate work up in Newfoundland, but I am a Yank. I would volunteer to donate 10 copies of God Delusion and 10 copies of Magic of Reality if you would do the distribution up in PEI. It is better to have a Canuck do this rather than a Yank.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Larter/736727030 Mike Larter

        Wow, thanks!  God Delusion for High school, Magic for elementary, awesome!

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

          Mike, here is my email addy – eric @  fennecsociety .org   – contact me with the address to send the books and I will get them to you for distribution to the PEI schools in question.

  • http://sucktackular.com sucktackular

    I’d donate to have The God Delusion handed out. It’s merely offering a service, anyway.

    • Aljaž Kozina

      That’s actually a good idea. Though – will they read it?

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_POBNPRAX3ZQKUBJF3XAG3WLI4A Tracy

        My kids loved it.  Chapter one had a fairy godmother with a blowtorch wand.  After that, they were hooked.

    • Rod Chlebek

      Me too

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Larter/736727030 Mike Larter

      I think setting up a donation to get copies of “The Magic of Reality” handed out would be a better idea, it clearly takes the stance that bible stories are part of mythology and are clearly shown to be wrong in light of scientific evidence, it is visually stunning as well, it would be a better candidate for elementary school children.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      We also need a plan for what to do with them when they get refused.  Libraries?  School libraries?  But how to pick?  Purchasing from Canada is a good idea to not deal with customs, and you might also be able to get a bulk discount via a store or library. I have library contacts, but on the other side of the country (Victoria).

      • TheBlackCat

        When they get refused, just move on to the next school that offers the service.  Keep them on hand whenever the issue comes up.

    • InvincibleIronyMan

      You have the awesomest username!

      • http://sucktackular.com sucktackular

        Why thank you!

  • Alex

    Beautiful, indeed. These are the same kind of people that happily steal and vandalize local library’s books because they don’t like the content. Sometimes, I want to say something about talking to savages in their own language, but, unfortunately, that will not bring about anything but more hatred and stupidity.

  • Sylvain

    The best way to turn people away from Christianity is to have them really read the bilble.

    • Anonymous

      Some versions of the Gideon Bible are edited. Many include only the New Testament.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    My wife and I are watching our local school system very carefully for this kind of sanctimonious B.S. – so far, so good. No Bibles or other Xtian crap. They seem to keep it in the private Catholic schools.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

    Calling Canadians and AXXgrrl…

    Axgrrl, you are a Canuck, correct? And this is EJC, my browser burped and I couldn’t figure out how to log back in as such…

    Anyway, you and I always tussle, but I know you are Canadian, and I did my graduate work in Canada (Memorial U or Newfoundland)…I would be willing to send you twenty copies of Dawkins “Magic of Reality” is you or other atheist Canucks could get them to the school in MEI. It seems more appropriate for Canadians to send the books versus Yanks…

    We may disagree on some things, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend (Sun Tzu)…so my offer is sincere if you would undertake the Canadian side of distribution.

  • kit

    This makes me laugh because I grew up in rural Ontario and I TOTALLY got a Bible when I was in grade 5! 

    They had us take home permission slips, and I remember begging my parents to sign it because I wanted to be like the other kids (more than half the class was Christian, including most of my friends at the time), and we had to go to school at about 7am and we were lectured about the importance of being good people and it felt very solemn and we got little red Gideon New Testaments.

    My parents being the sort of people who think I should know what the religion is before I fully confess faith in it, signed the form on the condition that I attended Key Bible Club for the rest of the year. Awesome things include free things every time you successfully memorize a bible verse, taken completely out of context (usually Psalms) and the reptile lady who would come by with lots of pet snakes. Negatives include how it was otherwise very boring.

    I wouldn’t say it affected me one way or another to my eventual atheism though. At the time I thought people were just indulging in mass traditionalism or something, the way at home my parents and I would burn incense for our ancestors and lay out food on certain days for them as a sign of respect and tradition and didn’t actually believe in it.

    I should note that legally, Canada doesn’t have a separation of church and state provision in its Constitution the way that the USA does. Freedom of religion jurisprudence isn’t the same in Canada as a result, and we do tend to be pretty open about people’s practices – for example, Sikh students are permitted to carry their ceremonial knives to school if they want to (Multani). It is wildly inappropriate to proselytize (especially to children), but I would need to do research to determine whether there’s an actual legal case that can be made. Constitutional law is not really my area of expertise – took 1L Constitutional, haven’t touched it since!

    • Sue Blue

      I went to elementary school in Colorado, back in the Jurassic, and I remember getting those little red New Testaments, too.  Problem is, I don’t remember having to have a signed permission slip…they just gave them out in school one day.  I also remember kids throwing them at each other in the hallways and tearing out the little pages and rolling them up, pretending they were hand-rolled cigarettes.   

      Sadly, I don’t remember any eyebrows being raised or parents protesting or anything like that.  Apparently, the Gideons have been getting away with this shit for a long, long time.

    • Lindsay Smith

      When were you in grade 5?  I’m in Ontario too, and I probably still have my little red bible somewhere.  But I don’t recall needing permission or it being outside of school hours; I think that might have been introduced later.

      I would have been in grade 5 in 1987.

      My kids’ elementary school allows the Gideons to come give grade 5s a bible, but it is by permission slip only and before official school hours.  My kids both opted out.

      I have a friend whose youngest son is in that grade this year, and his teacher publicly berated him for bringing back a slip checked “no.”  Apparently lots of kids didn’t bring it back at all, which is effectively a no, but he was the only only one who officially declined on paper.  He was embarrassed and his mom was furious.

      • kit

        Oh, I would have been in grade 5 in about 1998. I also was in a rural area (kind of – about 40 mins drive from a major city or so), so I don’t know whether this would have occurred at all in the cities.

        In my class about 1/2 to 2/3 of the class brought it back signed yes, so peer pressure was definitely an issue in my case . . .  though really, teachers who publicly berate students who say “no” to the bible shouldn’t be teachers. Canada is a multicultural place and not everyone is a Christian and if I were a parent whose child was publicly shamed for bringing back a slip that declined, I would have gone in there and chewed them out for not teaching multiculturalism . . . Maybe my time in Toronto has spoiled me though!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

      I’m in Ontario, grew up in a fairly small town, went to catholic school… and was never given a bible! I got one for my communion or confirmation (can’t remember which), but it was from family, not from the school. Just for reference, I was in grade 5 in 1985. This is so surprising to me, that you in a public school were given bibles! 

      • MariaO

        The catholics know better than to hand out unadulterated bibles to children.

        For a very long time they resisted translating it from latin, because their view was that it was dangerous for people to read the bible themselves, without proper guidance and explainations (“interpreting” the “seemingly” bad parts) from a approved teacher.  Having the bible only in latin was perfect for church control!

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    so… people here are going to donate to have books handed out specifically because they don’t want them handed out.

    … I’m confused.

    • PhiloKGB

      Intentionally, I suspect.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        If we want to make a point that these books shouldn’t be handed out in schools we shouldn’t be preparing to follow through with the acceptance of an offer to hand them out. If our offer were to be accepted we shouldn’t actually go through with it. Do you know how stupid and hypocritical that’ll make us look if we actually did it?

        • PhiloKGB

          Do you think Hemant’s offer was genuine or rhetorical?  How could you tell?  Use of exaggeration, perhaps?

          • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

            I was speaking of the people commenting. Some of which are taking the proposition seriously and offering to make book donations in case of going through with the rhetorical proposition.

  • Anonymous

    If I was a parent, and my child came home from school with a bible……… I’d burn it in a garbage can, and send the ashes back to school the next day sealed in  a zippered ”Glad-Bag”

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Given the Bible quotes on incest, etc., can’t we make the case that this is handing out PORN to children??

  • Anonymous

    I’m on the other side of Canada so I’m a little surprised that this is happening. I would love to see some partial printouts of the Qu’ran handed out to get the message across.

    Actually why stop there? lets send them a little bit of the Satanic Bible. Why not, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with offering out religious material right?

  • InvincibleIronyMan

    This reminds me of the last time I was in a school classroom, and I came across a book of Bible stories for children. I looked through it and came to the part where Moses comes down the mountain and finds his people worshiping a golden calf. “God was very upset”, it said! 

    Very upset! I said, “Where is all the killing people, every man his brother, his companion, and his neighbor”?!James, my friend Mike’s eight year old, said “but you can’t have that, it’s a book for children!”Just maybe, if the Bible is not suitable for children as is, then they should wait until they are older before reading it. Bowdlerizing it to make it “nice” is deception, pure and simple. Suppose that the child grows up and, like many Christians, never reads the real Bible, with all it’s warts? Then she’ll be forgiven for thinking that the Bible is full of nice, edifying morality tales, where everyone lives happily ever after. It’s just not like that!What’ll we have next, I wonder? A children’s version of Lolita, perhaps? One where Humbert and Lolita tour America by road visiting motels and whiny little Lolita keeps having crying jags in the bathroom for no apparent reason?

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      That’s actually the entire point. You whitewash the stories of the Bible and wrap them in this “child-friendly” blanket and by the time that child is in their teens they’ve formed this false interpretation of the Bible that ignores the more heinous aspects of the text. It falsely implants the idea that everything in the Bible is sunshine and rainbows. It’s indoctrination, pure and simple. Only rather than have the text completely secured and controlled by the highest priesthood, the worst aspects of the text are shuffled into the “we’ll tell you those when you’re older” pile.

  • InvincibleIronyMan

    BTW it is somewhat annoying that when I posted my last comment, somehow all the formatting was removed and all paragraphs bar the first one were butted right up against each other with nary a space between them, let alone a newline. I don’t like it, somebody please fix it!


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