A local parent wants B.C.'s education minister to stop the Chilliwack school district from allowing free Bibles to be handed out at local public schools, because he says the practice violates provincial law.
Richard Ajabu complained to the school board more than a week ago after his daughter was handed a permission form for a free Gideon Bible at school.
Superintendent Evelyn Novak and trustees discussed his concerns at an informal closed-door meeting Tuesday but decided to carry on as is and leave in place a district regulation that endorses the Gideons activity in local schools.
Ajabu said that violates the School Act, which calls for schools to be "strictly secular and nonsectarian," and on Monday he wrote a letter to Education Minister Don McRae asking him to step in.
"The [School District No. 33] board and superin-ndent have not acted to remedy the situation . . . and so I request that you investigate and intervene as necessary to ensure that Section 76 of the School Act is clearly enforced in SD33 and in every other BC School District," Ajabu wrote. "Non-instructional religious materials should not be distributed in public schools." Ajabu also accused the district of violating its own regulation.
Regulation 518 allows the Gideons to distribute Bibles to kids with parental consent, but Ajabu calls the brochures that double as parental consent forms "religious marketing."
"That card, professionally prepared and provided by Gideons, has been simply referred to as a 'consent form' by SD33; however, it clearly contains promotional advertising content that may be appealing to Grade 5 students," Ajabu wrote.
He also objected to the superintendent and trustees making a decision about the Bibles behind closed doors.
The B.C. Humanists Association, a group of agnos-cs, atheists and secular humanists, raised similar concerns in a press release Thursday.
"It's astonishing that the Chilliwack board would make this decision behind closed doors in light of the recent controversies in Ontario," executive director Ian Bushfield said, referring to recent clashes over Gideon Bibles in the Niagara, Bluewater and Grand Erie school districts.
Bushfield also called for an end to the distribution of Bibles in Chilliwack, calling it "discriminatory."
"It suggests that the only view welcome in Chilliwack public schools is Protestant Christianity," he said.
Trustee Barry Neufeld, however, came out in support of the Gideons' activity in an email to the board last week, saying knowledge of the Bible helps students understand Western literature and civilization.
Last week, a flood of letters to the Times also overwhelmingly supported the distribution of Bibles to local public school kids. But online comments, including some from former Chilliwack school board trustee John-Henry Harter have taken issue with the views expressed in some Times letters.
One letter, singled out by Harter on Twitter, states, "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."
To which Harter commented, "Is this the religious tolerance trustees hope to foster? They need to realize public school is secular."
Superintendent Novak and school board chair Louise Piper were unavailable for comment before press time.