A nonreligious Canadian family has been battling distribution of Gideon bibles in their Ontario public schools by asking the schools to distribute Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children, written by Dan Barker and published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
It was announced last week that the family’s complaint against the District School Board of Niagara will be heard by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in February. Rene Chouinard says his family is being discriminated against “due to creed.”
Rene and Ana Chouinard of Grimsby, Ontario, had complained several years ago after a permission slip to distribute Gideon bibles was sent home with their middle child, then in Grade 5. Their complaints prompted the principal to drop the practice. By the time their youngest child entered Grade 5 in 2010, the distribution of bibles had resumed. The school district has been permitting Gideon bible distribution since 1964.
In March 2010, after Rene Chouinard complained again, the school board amended its policy by inviting other religions to distribute books to children. But the board refused Chouinard’s request to distribute Just Pretend or Barker’s book for adults, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, also published by FFRF. Chouinard’s intent, as he told media, was not actually to distribute freethought books to children, but to force the school board to stop distributing bibles.
Niagara school officials told him they had consulted the Ontario Multifaith Information Manual, which lists diverse religions but does not mention atheism or secular humanism. Chouinard noted that the manual doesn’t list the Gideon Society, either.
“If all points of view are not allowed, then Ontario’s vaunted respect for equality and diversity is ‘just pretend,’ ” commented FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
Just Pretend is an illustrated book suitable for elementary school-age children (or “children of all ages”) that explores myths like Santa Claus and compares them with claims of the existence of a god. In an entertaining and fun way, Just Pretend introduces children to the tests of reason, and encourages them to apply reason to any idea, fairy tale, myth or religion.
“We would consider the bible X-rated and totally unsuitable reading for young children. But Just Pretend is written with the respectful premise that children should be free to decide what to think about religion for themselves, when they are mature enough to understand the concepts,” noted Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs FFRF.
School boards in Toronto, Peel, Durham, York and Waterloo counties had already banned Gideon bibles. In April, the Bluewater District Board in Ontario dropped bible distribution after a parent objected because the distribution of free bibles “undermines the secular nature” of public schools. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted in June to halt distribution of Gideon bibles, according to news coverage.
U.S. Supreme Court actions and First Amendment law bar Gideons from entering U.S. public schools to distribute bibles. Nevertheless, the predatory evangelical Protestant men’s organization is continually flouting the law, with the help of religious principals.
“It takes constant vigilance to keep the Gideons out of public schools,” says Gaylor.
FFRF has produced two “bible warning labels” to combat ubiquitous Gideon bibles in hotel rooms, including one, “Gideon Exposed” written by Ruth Green, author of The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, which urges people to judge Gideon for themselves after reading Judges, chapters 6-9. Gideon reputedly murdered thousands for worshiping “false gods.”
FFRF, which serves freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) and works to keep religion out of government, has more than 18,500 members in North America.
Listen to an interview of Rene Chouinard (second half of Freethought Radio broadcast, Sept. 8, 2012) at: http://ffrf.org/news/radio/.