HAMILTON, Ontario, June 15, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Trustees of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted this week to ban the distribution of Gideon Bibles in their schools, marking an end to a long tradition of giving grade 5 students, with parental consent, their own copy of the Scriptures.

School boards in Toronto, Peel, Durham, York and Bruce counties have already banned the Bibles.

The Gideons, an evangelical Protestant association based in Nashville, Tennessee, have been placing Bibles containing the New Testament plus the Psalms and Proverbs from the Old Testament in Canadian public schools since 1936.

“We have institutions that do this already and they’re called churches,” said board chair Tim Simmons, according to a Hamilton Spectator report.

“Maybe churches need to look at the job they do to provide this type of material and not put it on a public school system where we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the knowledge, the understanding, the expertise,” said Simmons.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s superintendent of equity, engagement and system programs, Sharon Stephanian, said the Bible was banned in order to bring the board in line with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Equity and inclusive education strategy.”

“When we looked at what was happening in other school boards and some of the rationale around reversing the practice, we felt that we needed to look at ours and do the same,” said Stephanian. “Ultimately it’s about creating those safe, equitable and inclusive environments for all students, where all religions are respected and valued.”

The strategy, which was launched by the McGuinty government in April 2009, requires every school board in the province to develop an equity policy that outlines their commitment to inclusion based on the grounds listed in the Ontario Human Rights Code, including “sexual orientation.”  The boards are then expected to revise all policies and practices to align with this commitment to “equity.”

Critics have called the equity policy “a program of child indoctrination” that “represents a frontal assault on the moral & religious values of a majority of parents, and a trampling of their parental rights.”

Kelvin Warkentin, communications manager for the Gideons International in Canada, told the Spectator his organization was “extremely disappointed” in the board’s decision to ban the distribution of Bibles, but noted that The Gideons’ response has always been to co-operate with such dictates.

“We recognize that offering a Testament to students is a privilege allowed by school boards, not an inherent right,” he said, adding that The Gideons believe there is a place for religious study in public schools.

“We need to teach our children respect for other religions and the best way to accomplish that is to make sure they understand them better,” Warkentin said.

Contact information:

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board
100 Main St. West
P.O. Box 2558
Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3L1
Phone: 905.527.5092
Fax: 905.521.2544
Email: via website (http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/contact/)