Here we go again, round and around the religious roundabout.
it comes to potentially divisive issues that simmer and occasionally
surface in multicultural Waterloo Region, you can count on differing
religious beliefs to top the troublesome list. You can also rely on
most public school board trustees thoughtlessly blundering into such a
This week, a Muslim mother in Waterloo opposed
a foolish move by a majority of Waterloo Region District School Board
trustees to allow schools to distribute free bibles for Gideons
International. Idrisa Pandit, who has a son in Grade 5 at Mary Johnston
Public School, went public with her objection to public schools that
are supposed to be secular getting sucked into distributing religious
Pandit objected to the Gideon proposal even though
bibles will go only to parents of who request them. Trustees are
offering a similar opportunity to distribute religious material for any
other religious groups.
I agree with Pandit’s courageous stand.
the school board approached this volatile issue with a clean record
when it comes to unfairly championing Christian beliefs over those of
other religious groups in our diverse, multicultural community, I might
not find fault with the Gideon proposal. Instead of proselytizing
non-Christians, trustees would merely be offering free bibles to
families that want to read the historical, some say fictional material.
is, our public school board has an atrocious record when it comes to
favouring Christian beliefs over those of other religions.
don’t want to see us return to a bigoted time when local trustees
interpreted the word “public” as “Christian” and believed there was
nothing wrong with a religion-in-schools program where members of the
clergy — Protestant members — were brought into classrooms to ram their
very questionable beliefs down the captive throats of children. That
situation was made worse by the fact kids from families that had
different religious beliefs would be centred out, often ridiculed by
other students and directed to sit outside in the corridor while
Christian force-feeding took place.
At the time I was told by
former trustee Lorne Shantz, who championed religion-in-schools week,
he had no time for immigrants who objected to Christianity being taught
in public schools. He said when in Rome, they should behave like Romans
and they should go back where they came from if they didn’t like
Christianity in schools.
The school board finally abandoned its
outdated stance when local Christian ministers joined with protesting
voters to insist schools leave religious teaching to parents and
Displaying a remarkable lack of leadership, our
simplistic school board chair Mike Ramsay now insists there’s nothing
wrong with the Gideon plan because any religious group approaching the
board with a similar request to share information will be able to send
religious material home to parents requesting the information.
Too bad it’s not that simple.
predict Ramsay and nine naive, misguided trustees who approved the
Gideon proposal will soon be flat on their backsides, skidding down a
slippery slope when one of our borderline religions takes them up on
their offer to have schools distribute material. Trustees will then
have to deal with the perception they give board approval to a variety
of outrageous fundamentalist beliefs.
They will then run the
risk of backlash from disgruntled Christians who, while they might be
supporting the Gideon proposal this week, will have difficulty
stomaching what they will see as objectionable, possibly discriminatory
material distributed through public schools by fringe religions.
such a minefield of explosive, sometimes violently held beliefs, public
trustees should follow the sensible lead of other large boards in
Ontario and refuse to get involved in religious issues.
should encourage schools to study world religions in a carefully
balanced, historical and universal fashion and avoid any situation
where they favour Christianity over other religions or even create the
perception they support one set of beliefs over another.
Kitchener journalist Frank Etherington writes on alternate Thursdays. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org