A father in the Canadian province of Ontario is seeking to have atheist tracts distributed to children in the province’s schools along with Gideon bibles. The bibles are only given to children with the permission of the parents.
Rene Chouinard, a father of two school-age children and an active secularist said he didn't think that “10-year-old kids should be expected to make decisions on which theological concept is correct”.
Since 1964, the Gideons have offered free red Bibles to students aged 9-11 across Canada provided that the parents of the students were agreeable. In the Niagara Region, where Mr. Chouinard lives, this takes the form of permission slips distributed by the student’s teacher, according to Canadian newspaper, The National Post.
In a protest move in 2010, Mr. Chouinard offered to match the Gideons’ offer with a selection of two non-religious texts, but he admitted that he never intended to distribute the atheist literature. Instead, he wanted to force the school board to “show its hand,” he said.
When school officials rejected his offer, Mr. Chouinard took his case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
On Wednesday, he learned that the tribunal would hear his complaint next February, and that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association had signed on as an intervenor.
In 2010, soon after Mr. Chouinard’s fight hit the local press, Niagara school officials drafted a policy opening the door for students to receive Korans, Torahs and even Books of Shadows. The literature was to be approved by the district’s director of education, the school’s principal and by a written permission slip from the student’s parents.
“I would be most comfortable saying that we make [religious texts] available,” said Brett Sweeney, spokesman with the District School Board of Niagara. “Nothing is distributed without a signed parental permission form.”
So far, however, only Mr. Chouinard has applied under the new policy, although he said he has unsuccessfully canvassed other religious groups to do the same. “Most of them said they didn’t think it was right to distribute material in the schools,” he said.
Last year in Waterloo, only 80 minutes west of Mr Chouinard’s hometown, the University of Waterloo’s Islamic Information Centre petitioned the local school board to distribute Korans to public school students. The group rescinded the offer after only a few days.
“Our motivation for the request was based on Islam’s strong encouragement of the exchange of knowledge and viewpoints … however, Islam also teaches the importance of harmonious relations and avoiding unnecessary conflict,” read a statement from the Kitchener mosque.
Ultimately, the school board banned the distribution of religious texts altogether — prompting a torrent of outrage from Christian parents
Last June, a school board in the Canadian town of Hamilton followed suit, arguing that handing out Bible permission slips could be interpreted as giving a stamp of approval to the text
Founded in 1899, the Gideons are a worldwide Evangelical group devoted to distributing copies of the New and Old Testament, most notably in hotel and motel rooms.