ST. CATHERINES, Ontario, September 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear a complaint by a Niagara region parent who objected to the availability of Gideon Bibles at his daughter’s school.
In 2010 Rene Chouinard took issue with the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) when his fifth grade daughter brought home a slip which would allow the Gideons to give the girl a bible with parental permission.
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. Gideon Bibles have been made available in the District School Board of Niagara schools since 1964.
Chouinard, a self-professed secular humanist, challenged the board’s policy of allowing Christian material to be given to students by demanding that he be allowed to distribute two humanist books titled “Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children” and “Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist” to the Grade 5 students of Nelles School in Grimsby, where his children attend.
Chouinard told media at the time that his intent was not to actually give the books to students but to provoke a situation where the board would be forced to censure the Gideon bibles.
“It was just so we would have some evidence that [the school board] is not being neutral,” he said.
In response to Chouinard’s demand, in March 2010 the DSBN amended its policy regarding the distribution of religious materials by inviting other religions to offer religious books to students, with the approval of the education director, principals and parent groups, and with the permission of the child’s parents.
Brett Sweeney, a spokesman for the DSBN, told the National Post that the board hoped the new policy would appease those who objected to only the Gideon bible being made available.
“I would be most comfortable saying that we make [religious texts] available,” said Sweeney. “Nothing is distributed without a signed parental permission form.”
However, only Chouinard applied to have his secular humanist material given to students under the new policy, but his application was rejected.
Niagara school officials said they consulted the Ontario Multifaith Information Manual, an “authoritative guide for the management of religious diversity issues” that covers everything from Bahá’í to Zoroastrianism, to determine which religious books were acceptable, but as the manual does not include atheism or secular humanism, Chouinard’s books were considered unacceptable.
As a result, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to consider Chouinard’s allegation that he was discriminated against “due to creed.”
The Human Rights Tribunal hearing is reportedly set for February, 2013.
Other Ontario public school boards have caved in to demands to discontinue allowing students to receive free bibles.
In April the Bluewater District board, which has over 18,000 students in 53 schools in Ontario’s Bruce and Grey counties, crumbled under the pressure of one complaint from a parent who said the distribution of free bibles “undermines the secular nature” of public schools. An 8-3 vote ended a decades-old tradition for those families who wished their children to receive a Gideon Bible.
In June trustees of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted to ban the distribution of Gideon Bibles in their schools, citing a desire to bring the board in line with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Equity and inclusive education strategy.”
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.”
The strategy was launched by the McGuinty government in April 2009, and has recently mandated a requirement that all schools, public and Catholic, have homosexuality inculturating Gay-Straight Alliances.
School boards in Toronto, Peel, Durham, York and Waterloo counties have already banned Gideon Bibles.
The Gideons have responded to every instance of a school board banning the bible by noting that their position 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,” said Kelvin Warkentin, communications manager for the Gideons International in Canada, 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.
District School Board of Niagara
191 Carlton Street
St. Catharines, Ontario L2R 7P4