by Hilary White

RICHMOND, ÂB.C., April 6, 2006 ( – Early this week, the Toronto headquartered Globe and Mail ran on its front page a story on objections to the Richmond school board’s practice of giving students the opportunity to request a free Bible.

The Globe quoted 36-year-old graduate student and mother of a Grade 1 pupil, Renate Gepraegs, who at a school board meeting, objected that the “neutral” secular position at her son’s school could be threatened by the offer of a free bible to any student who wanted one.

“I thought schools were neutral zones,” said Gepraegs. “I thought schools were secular, and organized religions didn’t have a place in public schools.”

The Richmond school board’s policy, however, far from forcing religion into the schools, is to send a letter home to the child’s parents asking if they want a bible for free. The board is not planning on changing the policy.

B.C. Civil Liberties president Jason Gratl said, “It carries no threat of undermining the secularism of our school system, but it’s a practice that ought to be quietly ended.”

The Gideons have been distributing Bibles around the world since the turn of the 20th century. Sensitive to the shift away from religion in public schools in Canada, the Gideons have long had the policy of waiting for requests for their Bibles.

Gideons representative Paul Mercer told the Globe and Mail, “We don’t proselytize, of course. This is a vexing issue that we’ve wrestled with as to what multiculturalism means.”

The demand for Bibles among Canadian youth does not reflect the secularist bias of the schools or the Globe, however. The Gideons say they respond to as many as 250,000 to 300,000 requests for Bibles from students each year in Canada.

Mercer, of Gideons International in Canada, told the Globe, “We just simply believe that everybody should have the opportunity of owning a Bible.” In addition to schools, the Gideons distribute bibles to prisons, hospitals and to military servicemen and women overseas without regard for denomination.

Despite decades of concerted effort by secularist activists to end even the mention of Christianity in schools or public life, church-going in Canada is on the rise among young people. Canada’s best-known researcher on religious adherence, Reginald Bibby, said in his most recent book, “Restless Churches,”“Organized religion is making a comeback.”

In 2004, Bibby told, “On any weekend, one of four Canadians attend services. That is five million adults, plus children.”

“There is no other group activity in Canada that begins to compare with such a level of involvement. It’s more than the total number of fans our six Canadian NHL teams combined draw in an entire season with a fraction of the marketing, publicity and corporate support,” said Mr. Bibby.


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