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A school district in Chilliwack, British Columbia has said that it will continue offering free Bibles to students despite protests from an atheist parent who describes the handouts as "religious marketing."
"The Board approves the distribution of Gideon Youth Testaments to Grade 5 pupils with parental consent," the Chilliwack school board said last week in response to the concerns of the parent, Richard Ajabu. He said his daughter showed him a permission form to receive a free Bible at school from Gideons International, an evangelical Protestant association that has handed out free Bibles to Canadian grade five public school students since 1946.
Ajabu has called the free Bibles "indoctrination," and said the program discriminates against parents belonging other religious groups who do not want to raise their children with the Bible, the Chilliwack Times reported.
The Gideons International said that the free Bibles were a tradition that has been around for a long time.
"Giving New Testaments to grade five students began in 1946 and is a tradition that continues to this day across Canada. It is often in grade five that a child begins asking the big questions of life: what is right and wrong, what is the purpose of life, and what happens when we die," the organization said.
The fliers also make it clear that parents need to complete a card which is then submitted to the child's teacher before they receive the free Bible.
Superintendent Evelyn Novak noted that the matter had been discussed at a "superintendent's conversation," but said the board confirmed that "it's policy and we're carrying on as is."
"I am surprised at the apparent secrecy and lack of open dialog by SD33 [School District No. 33] so far," the parent responded to the school's affirmation that it will continue offering the Bibles, saying that he hoped the district would be more open to discussion on such a topic.
"If SD33 continues to allow the distribution of non-instructional religious materials in public schools, they may be breaking the law, and they may be exposing the public school district (and taxpayers) to increased risk of legal action that should be completely unnecessary," Ajabu added.
Atheist groups have also said that such a decision should not have been made behind closed doors.
"It's astonishing that the Chilliwack Board would make this decision behind closed doors in light of the recent controversies in Ontario," said British Columbia Humanist Association Executive Director Ian Bushfield, noting that other Canadian school districts have also been accused of handing out Bibles to students.