An Atheist Faces Backlash After Trying to Prevent Public School from Passing Out Bibles to Children

The Chilliwack school board (in British Columbia, Canada) has a policy that explicitly allows for the Gideons to pass out Bibles to children with parental permission:

The actual permission form used in Chilliwack

Recently, one parent tried to do something about it:

Richard Ajabu complained to the board last week after his daughter, who attends Sardis elementary, brought home a permission form to receive a free Bible at school from Gideons International, an evangelical Protestant association that has handed out free Bibles to Canadian Grade 5 public school students since 1946.

Ajabu was surprised to find out there was a local regulation in place that endorses the Gideons’ activity in the Chilliwack district.

“The Board approves the distribution of Gideon Youth Testaments to Grade 5 pupils with parental consent,” states administrative regulation 518.

At Ajabu’s urging, the school board revisited the policy earlier this week in a closed-door meeting… but they decided to keep it in place.

It was a foolish decision on their part. Even the local paper explained the problem with promoting Christian mythology over that of other belief systems:

But the school district should not allow religions to use school time and property to promote their beliefs.

The alternative is chaos and conflict. A school district that allows the distribution of Bibles must allow other religions to hand out their own holy books.

That’s fine in theory. Let Muslims hand out the Koran. Let Hindus give out the Vedas. Let Sikhs distribute the Guru Granth Sahib.

But where do you draw the line? Do you allow Scientologists to hand out the writings of L. Ron Hubbard? What about Christian groups that favour different forms of the Bible?

The answer is simple: leave the distribution of religious materials to other institutions.

The BC Humanists also issued a press release condemning the school board’s decision:

“It’s astonishing that the Chilliwack Board would make this decision behind closed doors in light of the recent controversies in Ontario,” said British Columbia Humanist Association Executive Director Ian Bushfield in reference to recent protests over Gideon Bible distributions in the Niagara, Bluewater, and Grand Eerie School Districts.

Bushfield calls the decision “discriminatory,” stating “It suggests that the only view welcome in Chilliwack public schools is Protestant Christianity.”

The BC Humanists are calling for the Chilliwack School Board to immediately reverse their policy and to follow the Public Schools Act of British Columbia, which states that schools should be operated “on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles.”

That’s all well and good but the story doesn’t end there.

Because Ajabu’s last name is ethnic-sounding, he’s been getting a lot of awful comments thrown his way in the local paper. Like this one:

I am sorry these people don’t like this program of free Bibles. Mr. Ajabu is so worried with what the Muslims, Sikhs and other religions will say about this, I guess this is what is meant by “politically correct.”

Well, they chose to come to this country. I don’t remember inviting them, but that is not what we’re talking about. When you come to another country you live by their standards, and if by chance you don’t happen to agree or like what is happening, well you have to live with that or go back to your own country.

And this one:

Why is this irritating Mr Ajabu’s mind? I must say, that Hindu, Muslim, etc. rituals are irritating Christian minds as well.

Christians developed this country, not Hindus, Muslims, etc.

Mr. Ajabu has only one honest solution: Go back to his home country, practice his religion over there.

There’s a lot of letters like that — maybe they’re not as openly racist, but they’re almost all anti-Ajabu.

Ian Bushfield would love to send Richard a collection of positive messages to let him know he has support from our community. So if you’d like to write him a note, just leave it at Ian’s site, email him directly, or write to the Chilliwack Times.

(via British Columbia Humanist Association)

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.

  • Semicolin

    Sadly this is the case across much of Canada, where there is even a publicly funded Catholic school system.

    Public money spent on religious indoctrination is rampant through all levels of government, and even Quebec’s official stance of secularism has resulted in the ban of all religious symbols in the public service, except of course the cross. Even in their public non-catholic schools a religion course is mandatory.

    There’s a federal office of religious freedom which so far does only work for Christian internationals. Our minister of science and technology is a creationist chiropractor.

    • Baal

       The US Federal Gov’s House Science committee is staffed with creationist anti-science critters as well.

  • jdm8

    I didn’t realize Christian Privilege had such influence in Canada too.

  • Alan

    It was very interesting to see this post this morning as I have just become aware of this very issue in my small Western KY town.  The caveat in my case however, there are no permission slips.  The Gideon simply places himself at the entry door into the school from the playground and hands out texts as the children return from recess.  I’m still contemplating how to handle the information, as I personally want to avoid the same fate as Mr. Ajabu in the very small town I live in.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PWUAB6VWGQWUV4GQTMTPBBU33Q JessicaR

      Our town is around 1000 population. The problem with speaking up is that, probably just like the one you’re in, the vast majority of the population will totally support it and then turn on me and invite me to GTFO. If it were just me I’d raise a stink, but I’d be putting our girl on the line for it as well and she just wants to make it to graduation with as little drama as possible. I don’t know how to deal with the school sponsoring xtian propaganda either.

      • curtst

        Instead of trying to stop it, but try handing out copies of the Koran and let’s see how they react to that.

        • Artor

          Umm…angry mobs with torches? That’s a good way to get run out of town in rural AmeriKKKa.

          • http://twitter.com/NotThatGreg Greg Smith

            What about handing out copies of the “The Magic of Reality”? That would really cause an uproar I imagine. Of course, there’s no reason  it shouldn’t be in the school library.

        • Fsm

           http://www.amazon.com/The-Gospel-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster/dp/0812976568/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351444791&sr=8-1&keywords=flying+speghetti+monster

        • http://twitter.com/NotThatGreg Greg Smith

          How about just sending the Gideon form back with “no thanks, Talmud please” or “I would prefer you provide my child a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology, she already has both Grimm’s and the Bible” In for a penny, in for a pound.

    • Suzanne

      Alan, the FFRF was successful last fall in persuading Muhlenberg County Schools in western Kentucky to stop bible distributions during instructional time.  Then the school board decided that it was okay for the Gideons to distribute stuff at after-school events.  When challenged, the school board claimed they had implemented a limited open forum by which any group could distribute literature.  To test the sincerity of the policy, I requested permission to distribute FFRF literature, and the Western Kentucky University chapter of Secular Student Alliance submitted a separate request.  The requests were granted, and now we are going into the schools to demonstrate what it means to have a truly open policy, free of viewpoint discrimination.  Many residents are furious.  Things came to this because the school board couldn’t handle completely ending their cooperation with the Gideons.  The fight isn’t over; school board meetings are still kicked off with prayer, in direct violation of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Coles Coles v. Cleveland Board of Education.  Anyway, I’d love to compare notes.  If interested, contact me at suzannelamb@bellsouth.net.

      • Alan

         Thanks Suzanne!  I just sent you a note.  I really appreciate your insight.

      • http://twitter.com/Freemage69 Freemage

         Suzanne — just a tip.  You probably want to edit the post so that your email is broken up (such as “suzannelamb [at] bellsouth [dot] net”  This makes it harder for spammers to pick up with bots.

        • Suzanne

          Thanks, freemage.  But now I can’t figure out how to edit it.  Help?

          • Anonymous Atheist

            Only registered users can edit their own posts. As an unregistered user, you’d have to contact Hemant and ask him to change it for you.

  • Ren

    I find it constantly ridiculous when Christians lay claim to an entire country, particularly when it was *not* Christians who first developed the country in question.

    Which is pretty much all the time, so it’s always ridiculous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cecelia.baines.5 Cecelia Baines

      Right? I wonder what the Innu, Inupiat, MicMac, Athabascan or _______ (fill in the blank) Frist Nation’s people think of all that?

      Last I heard, none of these folks were practicing Christianity when Cabot was making his way along the Maritimes, or when Champlain was putzing around…..

  • Thomas Lawson

    From the BC Schools Act:

    “Section 76 of the act requires all public schools to be conducted under strictly secular and non-sectarian principals and that no religious dogma or creed is taught.”

    Lots of wiggle room there, of course, but slipping that brochure into a kid’s backpack is most assuredly an endorsement from the school district. There’s no question about that.

    For the record, I have no problem with a Gideon member standing on a corner down the street with the Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out their literature. Kids ask about God and religion much sooner than age 10, so it’s not like anyone is afraid of the book. People would just rather have their school boards following the law.

  • Guest_K

    I’m a marketing executive for my company and I’ve come up
    with a fantastic idea for reaching our target market of young children,
    especially those in grade 5. We want to reach them with our product before
    other competitors and have them identify our brand as uniquely meeting their
    needs for their lifetime. We’ve arranged for schools across the country to
    distribute our product directly to these children! None of our competitors have
    been able to arrange a distribution system even close to approaching ours, and our
    investors are excited at this exclusive and sweeping opportunity. It doesn’t
    matter if the teachers who must directly coordinate the distribution of our
    product also consume our product or that of our competitors, as they have no
    choice to participate in this marketing outreach based on our agreement with
    their employer, or rather, their local school board.  We acknowledge that parental consent must be
    given before distribution, but this negative aspect to our campaign is secondary
    to the fact that our flyers are already in each classroom by this time and have
    already been given to each child before reaching their parents. We can rely on
    peer pressure and the natural desire of children to receive things for free to assist
    the children in pressuring parents to sign the waiver. Likewise, we can also
    rely on parents who are already primary consumers of our product to enroll
    their children in our marketing campaign, regardless of whether the child yet
    identifies with our product or wishes to receive it. It’s an exciting time when
    secular public schools are willing to side with our non-secular product and
    assist us in this vital aspect of our marketing campaign!

  • GabyYYZ

    This is BC…Yes we’re polite Canadians, but even we have our rednecks.

    • Stev84

       I thought Alberta was the Texas of Canada?

      • GabyYYZ

        You kind of know what you get with Alberta, and yes it is the Texas of Canada.  British Columbia, however, is more like South Carolina and Georgia, pleasant to look at in certain spots, but not easy to live in if you’re not the type.  Surprisingly conservative in many areas.  

        • http://www.facebook.com/cecelia.baines.5 Cecelia Baines

          Prince George, Prince Rupert and 100 Mile are pretty conservative for sure. Funny thing is though, just go a little further north into Whitehorse and things get much more liberal.

    • CanadianNihilist

      Sadly not surprising coming from Chilliwack. We like to pretend that it’s only America and Alberta full of religious nut jobs.
      Most places we can sweep under the rug until something like this happens.

    • http://twitter.com/NotThatGreg Greg Smith

      Does anyone know, does this program put kids in a situation where all their classmates find out whose parents have consented, and whose have not? Unless the books are shipped to your home, this seems likely to be the case.

  • C Peterson

    Nothing says “I haven’t the wits to construct an intelligent argument” quite like “go back to your own country” (for people with “funny” sounding names) or “go back to Iran, North Korea, etc” (for people with “normal” names).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      It is rare you disappointment me when it comes to your comment and tonight once again you have not.

  • Dan

    I have no problem with people distributing religious stories so long as they make it perfectly clear that there is no evidence to support these stories.  If these people will openly declare that their books are humanly produced fiction then that’s okay.  Otherwise, take your iron age beliefs back to your cave.

    • Mac

       No evidence to support these stories. Wow. There is actually an abundance of evidence – easy to look up in this day of Google. Plus an abundance of opposing views. But it requires work to sift through the conflicting claims and arrive at a reasoned position – much easier to let that knee jerk and let fly with positions that are complete fiction, i.e. the idea that Jesus is not anchored in history and didn’t do the things he did, things supported by hostile testimony. But like He said: “seek and you will find” etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=705066677 Desiree Bell-Fowlks

        LOL.  Right because a talking snake, a giant flood that covers the earth, and a dead man coming back to life is a true story.  In the bible there are locations and people that were real, but the whole thing is bullshit.  Harry Potter writes about some real locations and people, but the whole story is make believe.  You should really use google, because apparantly you think magic is real.

  • Guest

    not surprised. Chilliwack is part of the BC bible belt. 

    • TnkAgn

      Oh, Chilliwackos, then.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PWUAB6VWGQWUV4GQTMTPBBU33Q JessicaR

    I got a letter in the mail last week from the school informing me of an afterschool program they were sponsoring to teach abstinence only education, xtian based of course, to the students. What galls me is that the permission slip that came with the letter isn’t “sign if you want your child to attend” but “sign and return if you do NOT want your child to attend”.  In otherwords, they’re expected to go unless their heathen parents say no. They’ve also held before school prayer meetings for students and parents alike. It irks me to no end but if I were to protest any of it, our girl would be completely ostracized and harassed by the students and staff, with the support of most of the town. So glad she’ll be out this year.

    • Leigha7

      I would guess it’s less “opt out of abstinence-only sex ed” and more “opt out of sex ed in general.” I know my school had opt out permission slips for our sex ed classes (no one bothered to bring them home, usually, because being sent to the library while everyone else was learning about syphilis and watching a video of a baby being born would be too embarrassing).

      That said, I sincerely hope that when I have kids, their school doesn’t “teach” abstinence only sex ed (hopefully that won’t even exist by then). Why do they insist on ignoring all the dozens of studies saying it doesn’t work, not to mention the ones saying real sex ed DOES? It bugs me to no end.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Because denying that abstinence only works means facing the fact that their religion fails. For parents, it also means facing the fact that their perfect little angels probably are out there boning.

        • Godless Heathen

          I don’t see the correlation in the logic you expressed in your first sentence. Abstinence actually does work, regardless of religion ideology. 

          • http://twitter.com/Freemage69 Freemage

            He wasn’t talking about ‘abstinence’.  He was talking about ‘abstinence only’, as in the plan that teaches kids that the only form of contraception is abstinence, and forgoes mentioning anything from condoms through surgical options.

            Abstinence Only is meant specifically to encourage kids to follow the religious beliefs of those parents who think that premarital sex is always wrong.  However, as noted, it doesn’t work–kids in AO programs have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, STD transmission and abortion than those in comprehensive sex-ed classes.

          • Deven Kale

             Actually abstinence fails all the time, in cases where consent isn’t given. I’ve heard of times where the aggressor is willing to use a condom if asked and one is provided, but AO doesn’t teach anything about protection, does it?

          • Leigha7

            Abstinence-only sex ed is the prevailing (and most highly funded) type of “sex education” classes in the United States. It consists of “don’t have sex until you’re married or you will ruin your life” (nevermind that over 90% of Americans have sex before they’re married, and over 50% by age 17), and occasionally “don’t believe the lies about ‘safe sex,’ condoms don’t really work and you WILL get pregnant and/or get an STD if you have sex” (which is bull).

            Most importantly, study after study after study (in fact, every single one not funded by a religious group) has shown that it DOES NOT WORK. Kids who take abstinence only sex ed are no less likely to have premarital sex, no more likely to have fewer partners, and not likely to wait significantly longer (if at all) to engage in sex. And, when they DO have sex, they are quite a bit MORE likely to not use protection, simply because 1. they don’t know how, 2. they’ve been led to believe it doesn’t work, or 3. they were planning on waiting so of course they don’t have any, and if they were to buy some now it would mean admitting they aren’t waiting. Thus, they are more likely to get pregnant or contract an STD.

            What HAS been shown to work is comprehensive sex ed, which teaches not only the consequences of sex, but also about contraceptives, and (very importantly) decision making. The most important thing that is lacking in abstinence only sex ed is the reality that whether or not to have sex, when to have sex, and who to have sex with is a decision every single person will have to make for themselves. They should be instructed on how to make that decision, not simply told what decision to make.

  • WildRumpus67

    As a British Columbian this disgusts me. I wrote to everyone I could think of, including the Chilliwack School board pointing out the illegality of it.

    My closing line was, “if you don’t like pluralism, then move to the Southern United States where this kind of bigotry, while still illegal, is at least tolerated”

    I just wish the Chilliwack Times had a proper way to discuss this issue online so I could verbally bitch-slap those priviledged Christians back to the Bronze Age they admire so much.

  • Glasofruix

    Do you allow Scientologists to hand out the writings of L. Ron Hubbard?

    Like for free? I don’t see that happening anytime soon…

    • Godless Heathen

      Maybe someone should send a few cases of FSM stickers to be handed out? Two-fold win: Kids would LOVE them! Religious parents would HATE them! 

  • Librepensadora

    Si j’étais canadienne francophone, je serais fâchée parce que les  «Gideons» ont leur propagande seulement en anglais, même si je suis catholique et ils sont des hérétiques.

    If I were a francophone Canadian, I would be angry because the Gideons propaganda is only in English, even though I am Catholic and they are heretics.

    • Librepensadora

       Edit for comment just posted:  Gideons’ (Yes, stickler for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.)

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

    Yes, white Christian privilege exists up here too. We’re trying to do something about it.

    Those letters irk me. When I point out to people like the letter writers that white Europeans should perhaps go home too, and leave Canada to its indigenous peoples, the usual response is “Oh, that’s different.” They never say HOW it’s different, just that it is, even when pressed.

    And then the fantasies about smacking them about the face repeatedly runs through my mind. Stupidity should be painful.

  • http://twitter.com/NotThatGreg Greg Smith

    If the Gideons had a normal moral compass and sense of civic responsibility, they’d say “Well, sorry, we don’t want anyone to be seen as running afoul of school policy, especially since we don’t even need to do this, you can find us online in about 4 seconds, or ask at any church (or motel) how to reach us – give us a call and we’ll ship you a good book”. But, too much to hope for I guess.

  • Leigha7

    When I was a senior in high school (in a small town in the US), we spent the last week practicing for the graduation ceremony, and the one day some people came and handed out free Gideon bibles to us. The teacher in charge of everything made sure to tell us the school had no part in it and taking one was strictly voluntary, but I still found it strange that they were allowed to distribute bibles at a public school.

    And that was without parental permission, but to be fair, it was to 17 and 18 year olds.

  • Amy

    I am 22 now and live in Edmonton, and I remember getting a little NT bible in the fifth grade as well. I don’t recall permission slips for them, though. They just had some weirdo come hand them out and I remember being confused about why we were getting them. The person didn’t discuss them or anything, and we certainly didn’t dedicate any class time to discussing them. I probably lost it within a week. My family is Christian and I was a churchgoer back then but became an atheist when I was around 14.

    • JP

      I’m 22 as well and I went to school in Boyle, only about a hour and a bit north of Edmonton, and I too got a Gideon Bible in Gr.5. There was no permission slips or anything, they were just handed out one day. If I remember correctly I doodled in it and then threw it in the garbage on my way out. I didn’t realize that receiving them was such a common thing in Canada.

  • usclat

    You know, as the powerful religious right in the United States becomes more and more brazen and open with what their vision is for America, I have come to openly suggest to my children that like their forefathers, they too can leave the country of their birth to look for a better life elsewhere. One of my children has already done that and he is living in Sweden with his Swedish wife. I tell the others that IF they so decided, perhaps we/they might consider Canada. Oh well …. Look’s like it Australia instead!

    • AxeGrrl

      I tell the others that IF they so decided, perhaps we/they might consider Canada. Oh well …. Look’s like it Australia instead!

      I have friends there and trust me, Australia has its share of “i can’t believe this loopiness exists here” too.

      You might have to just set up your own country if you want to be able to get away from this stuff :)

  • ufo42

    Thanks for putting up that permission form.  It clearly advocates for one Christian sect over all other belief systems, Christian or otherwise and as such is clearly discriminatory.  I’ve started a petition on avaaz.org re this.  I encourage everyone to sign.

    http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Keep_BC_Public_Schools_secular/?fHVyIbb&pv=0

  • DougI

    His critics are of the same mentality of the Taliban who shot a 15 year old girl in the face for wanting to be free of religion.  Fundies are terrorists and their hate filled racism is just one tactic in their arsenal of faith-based bigotry.

  • Bill1957

    This one hit’s close to home (literally).  It’s sad that the school board members either caved to religious pressure or worse, actually believe there is  nothing wrong with the practice. I hope the public outrage will convince them to do the right thing, but unfortunately, that area of our beautiful and mostly enlightened province is our mini-Bible Belt and so most of the outrage will come from outside the community. I am concerned that the pressure from outside may make them dig in their heels further to “protect their community interests”.
    I’m reminded of a variation of an old adage, “you can lead a man to information, but you can’t make him think”. Unfortunately, this is all too true when it comes to religion.


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