Toronto School District Bans Gideon Bibles Distribution… Christians Respond with Threats

The Bluewater school district near Toronto, Ontario has a decades-old tradition of handing out Gideon Bibles to 5th graders. Why this was allowed for so long, I don’t know, but the school board recently decided to put a stop to it, banning “distribution of all non-instructional religious materials.”

As you might expect, many of the Christians in the community were very understanding:

“When are you ‘politically correct’ idiots, with your heads buried in the sand, going to realize that every action you take to destroy Canadian heritage…?” one email began.

“Allowing newcomers to Canada the ability to walk all over our heritage has got to stop before they carry us into the realm of a warring nation like the one they often left behind,” another writer said.

Trustee Fran Morgan called the “onslaught” of messages “really disturbing,” and said it has made her uneasy about driving the 30 kilometres to board meetings at night by herself.

“I really do feel threatened by it,” Morgan said from Griersville, Ont. “It’s been very unpleasant.”

Board chairwoman, Jan Johnstone, admits the vitriolic responses — some urging trustees to “watch your back” — are unnerving.

“People do crazy things,” Johnstone said. “They see Christianity as a fundamental part of their Canadian identity.”

Another wrote one trustee: “How is that you agree with God’s 10 Commandments and yet you have broken them countless times, you hypocrite!”

Although one trustee received a phone call he thought was tantamount to a death threat, the board has so far not referred the matter to police, but a spokesman said the situation was being monitored.

The alternative is to allow *all* non-education religious material, but you know these same Christians would complain about that, too, the moment a Koran or Wiccan text was handed out to students.

The ban is set to become finalized on April 17th.

(Thanks to Dorothy for the link!)

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.

  • MichaelD

    Bit of a nit pick with this part ”
    The alternative is to allow *all* non-education religious material ” Technically since we don’t have a separation of church and state its probably legal to just give special rights to the Christians. I don’t think its the right thing t do but it is probably a legal position.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Hmm… I thought I read in the article that that was the alternative and one trustee advocated that position.

      • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

        You did.

        “The board nixed the idea of allowing any religion to hand out materials on the basis it would suck up scarce resources and could be legally risky.”

        “Trustee Kevin Larson, who would have preferred all religions be allowed to distribute materials, said he was “disappointed” by some of what he’s seen.”

      • MichaelD

        What it comes down to is its not explicitely written into the law but there are some laws you might be able to make a case under. This is why we have publicly funded catholic schools but not other religious institutions. Since we have lack laws that explicitly demand this kind of equality its a bit of a grey zone  and generally a contentious issue. 

        Allowing all religions to hand out materials is an alternative and i think the proper alternative  (all or nothing). However, its not the only alternative that could be legal as our laws on this subject are not as clear cut as it is in the states. 

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          You’d think it would be clear cut in the States, but our actual experience suggests otherwise…

      • KEH (in Ontario)

         If memory serves… the distribution of these bibles was debated every year, but it was the year that a group was preparing to hand out Korans (in response to a comment that they were open to handing out any religious text but no one else had ever offered) that the ban finally went through.

  • http://tch3.com C High

    They used to do this when I was in grade school in North Carolina. They’d come by around the same time, 5th grade. I have no idea if they still do that. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

        I went to NC schools too did not receive the bible in my years. So safe to say that was over and done with by mid 90′s.

      • http://tch3.com C High

        So, sometime within a 10 or so year timeframe. I’m glad to hear they’ve stopped. I didn’t like it then and while I questioned a lot of my religious upbringing, I had not come to be an atheist for several more years. 

  • Gaby A.
  • Erp

    I wonder how many Catholics there are in the community.  The Catholic version of the Bible has several additional books and the preferred English translation of the whole is somewhat different.   I suspect some of the Protestant Christians would be upset if the version distributed included the Deuterocanonical books.

    • Bigbrain

      Big word! Look at the big brain on Erp!

    • http://twitter.com/yenmano Yen Mano

      Well, Catholics have their own school board (Grey-Bruce). I’m sure they’re just happy to be sitting in a place where no one can reasonably challenge their power. Poor, poor Protestants have to fend for themselves. 

    • Kit

      Yes, Catholics in Ontario have their own school system, it’s a dually funded school system for Catholics and  everyone else, so in theory all students have a choice to go to the Catholic school (where you will be required to take religion as a required course EVERY SINGLE YEAR you attend) or go to a secular school. The original basis of this was that Catholic schools were designated for our French-speaking minority because they were mostly Catholic, and at the time the Constitution was written, Catholic schools really just meant French schools. However, times have changed … and the dual school system is still Constitutionalized.

      I’m told that grade 11 and grade 12 Religion classes really aren’t THAT bad – apparently Grade 11 is all about World Religions and Grade 12 is about philosophy and epistemology. I’m not sure I believe them though.

      • http://twitter.com/PirateFroglet Cathy McGrath

        Actually, Peer Tutoring counts as a religion course too, since you have to take 5 credits for the 4 years you are at highschool. Or was that english?

        • Neatospiderplant

          I think that’s English.

      • Neatospiderplant

        Yup. Grade 9 and 10 religion classes were all about the bible. But  grade 11 religion was ethics. Grade 12 was world religion. That’s in the old curriculum. I’m not sure if that’s changed since. 

  • Anonymous

    Can I go off on a tangent here and express my irritation with the sticker?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea and it’s generally very well done. However I hear nails on chalkboards in my head every time my eye finds the “warning” that the book contains homosexuality. I know this is meant to irritate thumpers and they don’t like homosexuality and all, but it does make me emit a little frustrated yelp to see us promoting this notion that homosexuality is somehow unsuitable for children in a way heterosexuality is not.

    • Erin W

      Yeah, I had the same reaction.

      • bismarket

         That bit could be left out or replaced with (well you choose) & still have the desired effect!

  • Alexis

    Gideons founded in 1898. Placed first bible in hotel room 1906. Distributed first New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs in Canadian school rooms in 1936. Canada first colonized by French and British in the 16th century. I guess “I can’t remember when it started” equals “Long standing tradition”.

  • FSq

    The biggest issue here that I see is the threats from Christians. Try it this way:

    1) Christians claim the bible is a teaching tool that provides morality (i.e. no threats, no death, no murder etc…)

    2) Christians read the bible and claim a monopoly on “proper and good” morals

    3) Christians make death threats, destroy property (Streator, IL sign as a contemporary example)

    4) The bible must not teach good morals

    5) The bible should not be made available to impressionable and young children because it teaches them violence, and improper morals

    • JA

      It reminds me of the Jessica Ahlquist incident. People insisted that a prayer banner be left up in the school because it was teaching good moral values. Yet the students who had supposedly learned such good values from the banner had no problem threatening rape and murder against a fellow student. Clearly the prayer had zero impact on behavior. It’s silly to think that morality comes from external sources like holy books or banners on a wall. Goodness comes from within. Belief in God justifies what would otherwise be unacceptable behavior, so it does often lead to immorality.

      • FSq

        SPeaking of which, has there been any update from the Cranston “Police” Department on how the charges against the threats and aggressors are coming along?

        Perhaps it is worth all of us doing another round of phone calls to make sure there is true follow-up on the threats from the “police”.

        • JA

          I haven’t heard anything about charges. From what I understand, Rhode Island has very strict cyberbullying laws. Some students could be guilty of a felony. But I don’t know how it works legally. Even if some students violated the cyberbullying law, would Jessica be required to actually press charges? I wonder if she would want to do that. It may be better to continue to take the moral high ground, which she has done really well so far.

          • bismarket

             I promise i’m not a stalker, but i’ve been periodically watching the Twitter feeds of a couple of the worst offenders & none have mentioned to their friends ANYTHING about the police (or anyone else) chasing them up on the threats they made.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

        You are justifying you opinions of religion based off the actions of high schoolers? Have you spent much time around high schoolers lately? They are not the most stable bunch. I love my kids, but the more time I spend around them (I’m a teacher) the greater the ups and downs are. 

        Your “evidence” that religion is bad is based off of hormonal15 year-olds. Nice.

        • Gmoney

          See the thing is that we don’t need to justify it by the actions of 15 year olds.  We can see what christianity is all about given the actions of people who live in Alabama.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      1) I have not read any death threats that the story mentions

      2) There is no evidence that a Christian took the Streator sign

      3) If either 1 or 2 happens then it would be pretty awful

      4) There is nothing in the Bible that should lead them or justify such an action. If true, these actions would all be self-contrived ideas and not from God’s Word

      5) Conspiracy alert! It would be pretty demeaning to a group to put up a sign, 
           vandalize it or have it mysteriously disappear just to blame that said group. A bit of 
           a stretch yes, but I would not put it past an atheist activist to do such a thing as 
           society is pretty corrupt last I checked and society in general must be where an 
            atheists morals come from. A society that is dynamic and changing each and 
            every day. 

      • Nude0007

        I would put it past an atheist activist. Even the most ardent activist knows such a move would only ultimately backfire. Of course, sometimes kids get ideas…
        Christians have motive and so are the most likely suspect, besides, the posts were damaged. Someone who cared about the message would not destroy the thing, wanting it to be replaced. but of course again, every thought along these likes can be rethought, like they could have known if they didn’t cause damage it would look like someone who cared about the property did it. arrgh! Let’s just go with teh simplest explanation: some fundie couldn’t allow it to stand.

        (can we change the word “the” to teh? I can’t seem to get it right even once anymore. lol.

  • T-Rex

    Delusional religitards threatening other people because they don’t believe the same bull shit they do? Go figure.

  • Anonymous

    BTW, can I just say that the school board isn’t in Toronto? It’s a fairly rural district about 100-150 km northwest of T.O. around Georgian Bay. Some rural pockets of Ontario tend to be very conservative and traditional. Among them is an even smaller faction that  don’t like all this new-fangled multiculturalism and Charter of Rights stuff. They wish in their heart of hearts that they could turn the clock back to sometime before 1936 when all was right with the world.

  • http://twitter.com/PirateFroglet Cathy McGrath

    When I was in grade 5 here in Ontario (closer to that area than Toronto is), it wasn’t truly /Bibles/ that were handed out by the Gideons, they were red leather bound New Testaments, which are probably what have always been handed out in my area if not Ontario. Not that it makes much difference, I was in public school at the time. I switched to the Catholic District in grade 8, along with my sister so our tax base got switched to Catholic from Public that year. While it was nice to have an alternative, the curriculum was vastly different from the schedule the public school had.

    • Neatospiderplant

      We got the Gideon New Testaments in my Catholic  school too. Grade 4 though.

  • Ray

    I love this part

    ““Allowing newcomers to Canada the ability to walk all over our
    heritage has got to stop before they carry us into the realm of a
    warring nation like the one they often left behind,” another writer
    said.”

    Unless the writer is a First Nations Indian he/she is a newcomer. In any case there were no Christians in Canada before the ‘newcomers’ arrived.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      What you described was a native, not a newcomer. If the area had a nice pocket of French immigrants that had come over and settled during the 1600′s I wouldn’t consider them “newcomers” They French aren’t native to that area, but they’ve been there for quite a while not. 

      Ray, I don’t consider you a newcomer to America. But I might consider Iraqi refugees as newcomers though. I’m pretty sure (this is just me guessing based from statistics) that you are not native american either. Again, people from your descent have probably been around for a while and are not considered newcomers.

  • Brennan

    Is Canada a secular nation?

    • Anonymous

      In general, yes.  We, too, have our pockets of very high Christianity akin to the American ‘Bible belt’ (ours is the Prairie provinces and most rural areas), but there are few rather striking differences from the U.S……

      a big one is politics.  If any Canadian politician made any reference to their private religious beliefs in a speech or in a debate in relation to policy, it would be called out from many different factions.  It’s simply not done here.   When the science minister refused to say whether or not he believed in evolution, it got a lot of media attention ~ and none of it was positive.

      Our biggest cities are about as culturally and religiously diverse as you’re likely to find.  Toronto, for example, easily rivals New York city in this regard.

    • FSq

      I did my Masters Degree in Newfoundland. Newfoundland is very religious and very rural but what I realized was there was no true “seepage” of religion into the local politics. 

      I also lived in Montreal for a year. Quebec is a VERY Catholic province, and it still has many of the old blue laws on the books – i.e. no booze sold on Sunday; the big newspaper is on Saturday not Sunday. However Catholic as it is though, Montreal is very progressive, and much of Quebec is as well. 

      • AxeGrrl

        Quebec is a VERY Catholic province, and it still has many of the old blue laws on the books – i.e. no booze sold on Sunday

        Uhm, where in Quebec are you talking about?

        People in Ottawa drive over the river to Gatineau because you can buy booze at corner stores (which you can’t do in Ontario)…..on Sundays, on holidays and at hours far less restrictive than in Ontario.

        In general, Que is far more lenient when it comes to the sale of booze :)

  • JeffreyP

    I’m from Alberta and I remember getting a little red copy of the New Testament when I was in grade 5. I also remember throwing it in the garbage on my way out of the classroom; after doodling in it of course. I wonder if it was a Gideon Bible

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

    So where are these threatening e-mails? I’m not saying that they don’t exist, but if you’re doing a story about threatening e-mails and then the sample e-mails provided in the story aren’t threatening, then I’m led to believe that there’s nothing to this story except over-reaction. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      And for that matter, I wonder why this quote was left out? “The Gideons’ response to the school boards’ decisions to discontinue the distributions has always been complete acceptance.”

  • http://tanitisis.wordpress.com/ Tanit-Isis

    Creepy. I am Canadian, and was a little creeped out last year when my gr. 5-er brought home a sheet asking if we wanted her to receive a free bible. I checked “no.” I think if she had brought home the actual book I would’ve been quite ticked. I’m never sure how paranoid I should be… my kids’ school seems pretty good about keeping things non-denominational and non-specific, but there’s still the little references that bug me. And I’m always wondering if I’m over-reacting or not…

  • Dasmart

    I have no problem if the school board does not want to allow the Gideons to hand out bibles but I do have a problem with the government and school boards in particular taking Good Friday and Easter Monday as a holiday…what are they celebrating?…it is costing the taxpayers a huge amount of money to pay these people to take these days off never mind the parents that have to make alternate plans for their children.  I think these holidays should be eliminated and if someone is celebrating the Christian holiday that easter is they can celebrate on Sunday.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

    As always, the theists(not just christians) want to be free to trample on the rights of other.  If that privilege is questioned or revoked, they cry “persecution” so they can continue to persecute others.  


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