The Chilliwack school board is confident the new distribution of materials policy it adopted Tuesday is on solid legal ground despite veiled threats of legal action from the BC Humanist Association.
The board unanimously passed the new policy, which will now govern what can and can't be handed out at local schools, over objections from both the BC Humanists and local parent Richard Ajabu.
"I don't see it as a sincere effort to make any change. It really looks like a way to whitewash what was already happening and what you S want to happen," said Ajabu.
His complaint in October about a parent consent form for a free Gide-ons Bible his daughter was given at school first sparked the controversy around what gets handed out at local public schools.
Ajabu wanted the district to adopt a policy that would have explicitly banned the distribution of the Bibles and other religious materials by referencing a part of the BC School Act that states schools "must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles."
But the new policy makes no mention of religion or Bibles, and Ajabu said it could still allow for the Gideons' Bible giveaway.
"To me, it's very clear that this district is breaking Section 76 of the School Act, which everyone one of you took a oath to abide by," Ajabu told trustees after the vote.
BC Humanist Association president Ian Bushfield agreed and asked the board if it was willing to spend taxpayers' money to defend its new policy in court.
After the meeting Bushfield told the Times his group would be talking to lawyers and pursue "any and all legal means" they suggest to oppose the policy.
But interim board chair Walt Krahn isn't worried.
"I don't think that's ever going to happen," he told the Times. "We have sought advice from legal. We looked at the Charter, we looked at the United Nations Charter of Rights for Children. We have done everything absolutely to the letter."
Furthermore, Krahn said, the new policy creates greater equality and freedom when it comes to the distribution of materials from non-profits and religious groups.
But from now on, he said, all distribution would happen after hours and would be aimed at parents instead of students.
"Students will not receive any kind of brochure," Krahn said. "That is done."
Local Gideons are on board with the new policy, and School District No. 33 superintendent Evelyn Novak said the district had discussed two ways the group could still give out free Bibles at schools.
The first was akin to an idea proposed by professor and education consultant John Redekop during public participation at Tuesday's meeting.
He suggested outside groups could organize annual "faith days" or "worldview days" at schools where any group that wanted to could set up a booth and give out materials.
The other idea Novak discussed with the Gideons was putting a notice about their annual Bible giveaways in school newsletters.
Ajabu, meanwhile, was not asked to give input on the policy-a point that drew a bitter comment from the local parent Tuesday.
"The very family that precipitated this was not even consulted, and yet the Gideons were," he told trustees. "Can you understand how this looks from my point of view? It's very biased."
Most other public comments, however, supported the new policy.
"It is inclusive of all and it is fair to all," said local realtor Wayne Massey, who added that giving all groups equal opportunity to hand out materials at schools would counter what he sees as secularists' increasingly exclusive influence.
"We're turning our public classrooms into a private school on behalf of atheism," he said, "and I don't like that."
Trustees, too, voiced their support, but none as forcefully as trustee Barry Neufeld.
"Every morning, I pray to put on the mind of Christ," he said. "According to some arguments this evening, I shouldn't be on the school board because I can't think strictly secular. It's impossible for me."
? For more information, see the March 12 school board meeting agenda at www.sd33.bc.ca.