Painful Truth: Bible fight in schools can’t end well

Abbotsford is in the news again for the local school policy of allowing the Gideons to distribute religious literature to some students.

Every year, the schools send home a “consent card” for students to fill out (or toss into the recycling) and those who return it get an “Answer Book” with the New Testament and a few parts of the Old Testament.

Now the B.C. Humanist Association and some parents are asking that the practice be stopped, and a predictable fight in online comments, newspaper letter columns, and writing campaigns will ensue.

Here’s how the fight will go, roughly.

Stage 1: The Humanist Association will (correctly, as far as I’m concerned) note that the school district shouldn’t be acting as a distributor for material promoting one religion, or really promoting any religion. They will point out that many Christian parents would be outraged if the schools handed Grade 5 students copies of the Koran or Buddhist sutras or the Talmud.

Stage 2: Pushback. The Gideons will no doubt launch a fairly polite challenge to the idea of stopping the book-distribution program.

Internet commenters will be less polite.

This phase usually involves a number of assertions that are plainly false. First, you’ll see the claim that Canada is a “Christian nation” because God is mentioned in passing in some of our founding documents.

While there is no explicit separation of church and state in Canada, freedom of religion is right there in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s right near the top, maybe because it’s pretty important.

As we all have freedom of religion, having the government promote one religion over another, or religion in general, could be seen as infringing on those rights.

But this will not matter to those pushing back, who will loudly declare that Christianity is under siege, blah blah War on Christmas blah blah evil atheist conspiracy.

Stage 3: School board decision. The board will have to either ditch the program – which puts them in the awkward position of using district resources to promote the work of an outside religious group – or they will keep it.

It’s at this stage that there will likely be some kind of public meeting. People will cry, and say “Think of the children!”

If the board keeps the program, we will likely move on to…

Stage 4: Court challenge. I hope it doesn’t come to this, since it will be a waste of everyone’s time and money.

I have no idea what a judge might decide, with one small exception. If the Gideons can’t use the school as distributors, case closed. If they can… the judge is also likely to rule that any religious group can avail itself of the same opportunity.

So in the next year, we’ll have not just Gideons, but maybe Catholics, Mormons, various flavours of Evangelicals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses all lining up to distribute their material. In addition, you could see various Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist organizations.

And then it will get weird. You’ll get Satanists, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the Discordians, and every other parody religion out there. The Humanists will no doubt have some YA version of Richard Dawkins to hand out. The consent card will become a vast menu, and the distribution will overwhelm the poor school office staff members.

Really, probably better to just leave religion to families and churches, yes?


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