CCLA is deeply concerned about a resolution passed by the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) allowing Gideons International to distribute the Gideon Bible to grade 5 students. Schools will be sending home consent forms to all students in the fifth grade and providing the Gideon Bible to those students whose parents consent. CCLA expressed concerns about this practice in 2009 and has written to the school board on two occasions again this year to articulate the particular problems raised by the policy and its implementation. CCLA has also been contacted by a number of members of the Waterloo community who have expressed their concerns as well. The matter has been widely covered in the media and a petition has been started by local community members urging the Board to reconsider its decision.
While CCLA recognizes that public schools may teach children about various religions, their practices and beliefs, allowing Bibles to be distributed by a religious organization outside of the school’s curriculum is, in our view, in violation of the Charter’s protection of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion guarantees individuals the right to practice and believe what they choose, and also ensure that the state does not coerce or pressure individuals to believe. The distribution of the Bible is problematic because it sends a message to children that Christianity is endorsed by the school board. Members of other religions may feel that they are somehow less accepted in this environment. The Bible, and the particular version used by Gideons International, also contains words that are clearly proselytizing, urging readers to read the Bible daily and “prayerfully.”
The Bibles are not given out so they can be discussed as part of the curriculum or placed in historical context; the school is simply being used as a conduit for a religious organization to distribute its material. Moreover, as the schools must seek parental consent before giving students the Bible, parents are forced to make a religious statement to their public school, something with which courts in Ontario have taken issue in the past. CCLA is urging the Board to refrain from implementing the resolution.