A complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has been lodged over the distribution of Bibles to Grade 5 students by Gideons in the Niagara Region. Rene and Anna Chouinard contend that the public board should not have allowed the Gideons to hand out New Testaments over the past 12 years.
The Chouinards are self proclaimed Humanists who practice “a religion-free way of life guided by reason.” Rene Chouinard said the school board should focus on education, not religion. “It’s an education system, not a church,” said Chouinard, whose lawyers first made a request to the board in December to rescind their policy. They have hired a St. Catherines law firm to handle their case.
In the meantime, last week the District School Board of Niagara changed its policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. All religious organizations are now allowed to distribute religious material outside classroom hours, at the discretion of the education director, principals and parent groups. In spite of the change in policy, the Chouinards are continuing their case. They want the distribution of all religious materials stopped completely.
While his main goal is to keep religious materials out of school, Chouinard has decided to test the new rule. He has made a request to the school board to distribute the humanist book, “Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children” to the Grade 5 students of Nelles School in Grimsby, where the Chouinard children attend.
There are various policies regarding the distribution of religious materials across the province. For example, the Lambton Kent District School board policy was modified three years ago. A note is sent home to parents with students asking if they would like their child or children to receive a Gideon New Testament. If permission is given, Gideons distribute the Bibles either before or after school or during noon hour. Each principle makes the decision about whether such distribution be allowed in their school.
The secularization of Ontario’s Public Schools stands in contrast to the original intent of founders of the province’s educational system. In the 1944 edition of the “Programme for Religious Education in the Public Schools,” issued by the authority of the Minister of Education, it states “In the Programme of Studies for Grades I to VI of the Ontario Public and Separate Schools, it is pointed out that ‘the schools of Ontario exist for the purpose of preparing children to live in a democratic society which bases its way of life upon the Christian ideal,’ and further, that ‘the school must seek to lead the child to choose and accept as his own those ideals of conduct and endeavour which a Christian and democratic society approves.’
Bob Beasley is Director of Teaching Ministry for The Bible League of Canada. Born in Winnipeg and raised in Thunder Bay, Bob studied at Lakehead University, McMaster University, William Booth College and Ontario Theological Seminary. Bob has pastored churches, led youth ministry, directed camping programs and produced radio programs. Bob Beasley also broadcasts a free daily Christian podcast at http://www.bibleleague.ca and on the radio.