It’s the new school year, and that, of course, means new routines. One of the ones I’ve been working on with my kids is to get them into the habit of getting their lunch bags and any permission slips or other school communications out of their backpacks as soon as they walk in the door. It’s a hard sell: Being children, they just want to dump their bags and run. So when both kids handed me lunch bags and a sheaf of papers last week, my heart leapt. Until I saw this:
This is a letter from The Gideons International in Canada, asking my permission to present my fifth-grader with a free Gideon Youth Testament, “which contains the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.”
Really? No, really?
I know Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms, but until today I didn’t realize that the Evangelical Protestant organization, based out of Nashville, Tennessee, has continued this “tradition” of giving its “Little maroon testaments to all grade-five students in Canada” since 1936.
Look, I want to make this clear: I have absolutely no problem with children having Bibles, or, for that matter, Torah scrolls or Qurans or copies of the Bhagavad-Gita or any other religious text—as long as they keep them out of their publicly funded, non-denominational schools. My own children have access to many Jewish prayer books and to the Torah (or, um, Old Testament), both at their home and their synagogue.
Where I do have a problem is with public, non-denominational schools condoning—in fact, outright encouraging—students to accept any religious text.
Well, some people may argue, other religions could hand out their own materials. But you know what? Other religious groups don’t. I’m not sure why they don’t—maybe their religious tradition doesn’t include encouraging people to convert; maybe they aren’t aware that the opportunity exists; maybe they haven’t been allowed to—but the upshot is that the school board appears to be or is outright favouring Christianity above all other religions (not to mention atheism).
Sure, the Gideons don’t just hand out the Bibles any more—although they used to. I do understand that, nowadays, parents do have to give permission. But the fact that it’s even an option to give permission is problematic. Permission forms that come home from school aren’t neutral, no matter what anyone says. When my kids come home with permission forms, it’s understood that the default, encouraged answer is yes. Yes, Johnny can go ice skating with the class. Yes, Fatima can go on a field trip to the museum. Yes, I give permission for Enrico to join the chess club. Yes, Sook-Yin will take part in the public health dental program. Permission forms imply good things, wholesome things, healthy things, things you should participate in. Just by sending home a permission form, the school has already set itself up as suggesting that receiving a Bible is a good thing. And it may be, and it may not be, but it’s simply not a decision that a public school board should get to make for any of our children.
Yes, it may be “tradition,” but just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean that it’s still relevant or necessary, if it ever was. So, no, I don’t give permission for the Gideons to give my kid a Bible. And Canadian school boards shouldn’t be giving permission to the Gideons or any other religious organization to do the same.
Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences. Read more of Susan’s articles and tweet her @MamaNonGrata.