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Public schools shouldn’t help distribute Bibles, mom says

WATERLOO REGION — Public schools are not the right place to distribute Bibles to Grade 5 students, says a Waterloo mother.

Idrisa Pandit, who has a son in Grade 5 at Mary Johnston Public School, doesn’t think it’s right for the secular school system to distribute any religious material.

Yet that is just what the Waterloo Region District School Board allowed recently, when trustees approved a routine request from the Gideons International. For years, the group has used local schools to supply students with copies of the Christian New Testament, plus the books of Psalms and Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible.

The schools send a note home first, offering the free Bible to the child. It only goes home to students whose parents indicate that they would like one.

But Pandit, who is Muslim, said she is still concerned. And she wants trustees to think again.

“What place does anybody have distributing any kind of religious material in a secular school?” she said.

The Gideons International distribute millions of Bibles a year, including half a million in Canada. For decades, they have been placed in hospitals, legal offices, and distributed through schools, said their chief business officer in Canada, Gord Balfour.

“It’s just offered as a gift,” said Balfour. “We believe everybody should have the privilege of reading it for themselves.

“It’s a positive message. It changes lives in a positive way, and we believe everybody should have the right to own their own copy.”

School board chair Mike Ramsay said trustees “wrestled” with the issue.

Part of the reason trustees agreed is that other religions have the same opportunity as the Gideons, he said. The board “doesn’t bar other religious groups from coming to the board to request the same type of access.”

Waterloo trustee Catherine Fife voted against the distribution.

“I try to put myself in the position of a child who is not a Christian ,” she said. “My concern is that in some way, we are implying that this is something that should be read … Anything that comes from the school, there’s some understanding (that) it has weight.”

Fife does believe that the Bible and other religious documents ought to be in the school library, so they are available to anyone who is interested.

Fife also has concerns about the board’s policy on this issue, because it says trustees are responsible for approving any religious materials that would be distributed in schools. They must ensure that the materials meet the province’s human rights code and comply with board policy on equity, inclusion and anti-discrimination. Fife said she doesn’t feel she’s in a position to take on that job.

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