Right off the bat, this whole bible distribution is a very foreign concept to me-- someone writing this as a graduate of a Catholic school system (where distribution of the bible was surprisingly not an issue-- there was a complete set in every classroom) since converted to a one-public-school-system supporter. I have to say I agree with Paolo Miele (sometime commenter in these pages) when he states a public, secular school system -- particularly in more diverse urban areas -- should provide no space for the promotion of theology within its walls. Be it through sanctioned co-curricular activities or allowing the use of schools to distribute religious texts.
... a revamped District School Board of Niagara policy will not allow any kind of religious book or pamphlet to be distributed through schools to students, barring the approval of the director of education, school principals and parent groups. The materials would not be used for classroom teaching, but for personal use.This is one of those situations where to be inclusive of all faith communities it's perhaps better, easier and fairer to all to simply exclude all faith communities. I'm not saying get rid of world religions as a senior-level course-- it was one of the most useful credits I was forced to take in high school (many Catholic boards require this credit as one of the annual religious education credits). That credit allows a valuable opportunity to learn about other faiths. This is a distinctly different situation than allowing faiths to use the school to promote or serve their own faith communities.
The old board rule, which dated back to 1998, granted permission only to Gideons International in Canada to offer New Testaments to Grade 5 pupils who wished to have them in schools — if principals and parents agreed. About half of the board's 97 schools offered bibles to students. But Miele said any kind of religious item does not belong in a public school.
"There should be no religious materials from different religious groups even making requests to the board," said Miele, who has been critical of the board on other issues, including the closure of Niagara District Secondary School and ongoing support of Christian-focused Eden High School, which is part of the DSBN.
This half-and-half policy -- yes we allow, but it's at the judgment of people who might say no -- is poor. There are many public boards across Ontario that have similar ones. If the employee charged with the decision doesn't want to raise the ire of a particular faith group, then s/he has to permit all to do what the Gideons have traditionally done. When that happens it becomes a fairly meaningless policy.
The easier way to do it would simply be either to tell faith communities they will have to find other means to distribute their texts and promote their faiths, or to tell them they are permitted to distribute upon working out the logistical details with the school principal of how and when the distribution will occur outside of instructional time.
That said, I am well aware of the reality on the ground. My own county of 100,000+ population just got its first mosque-- and it runs out of a church (very a la Little Mosque). That's a very different reality than London, or Windsor, or K-W or the GTA. Such a, er, homogenous faith profile in a community like mine means many don't twist themselves into pretzels when the Gideon letter arrives home offering bibles to Grade 5 students.
However-- if we are to have a truly secular, public education system, then faiths should do this sacred-text distribution exclusively through their houses of worship.