Since 1936, Gideons International has been passing out free copies of the Bible to students in Canadian public schools. As stated on their website, the Gideons distribute Scriptures because they “believe that the Bible contains a message of hope and benefit from God for every person on earth … We believe that God’s Word can change lives.”
However, atheist Rene Chouinard of Ontario was strongly displeased several years ago when the Gideons gave Bibles away to students at his daughter’s school in the Niagara School District. Soon afterward, Chouinard asked school district officials if he could make a particular atheistic book available to the schoolchildren. The atheist book, titled Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children, compares God to Santa Claus, and claims “the Bible … [is] filled with mistakes and wild stories.”
“You are the boss of your own mind,” Just Pretend states. “If you have used your mind to find out what is true, then you should be proud. Your thoughts are free. If you are an atheist, then you know that God is just pretend.”
The atheist book was rejected by school officials. Shortly afterward, Chouinard filed suit against the district.
Last week, a decision on the case was handed down by Adjudicator David Wright of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, who ruled in the atheist’s favor. The 28-page verdict also condemned the school board’s religious literature policies as being “discrimination.”
“Allowing only the Gideons, a Christian group, to distribute religious literature in the Board’s schools … discriminated against the applicants,” the decision states. “[R]epresentatives of one creed and no others, including atheists, were permitted to distribute religious texts to students in the schools.”
The court ultimately decided that the Gideons cannot hand out Bibles until the school board revises their policies to facilitate the distribution of atheistic materials.
“I understand that some parents and students may not agree with some of the content of atheist literature like ‘Just Pretend,’” Wright admits. “However, the applicant and others do not agree with some of the content of the Gideon Bible. If the Board decides to have a policy permitting distribution of religious literature, it must be prepared to accept that some parents and students might object to materials that others, with parental permission, are receiving. If it is prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of Christian texts to committed atheists, it must also be prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of atheist texts to religious Christians. It cannot design its criteria in a way that would permit communication of materials setting out their beliefs by some, but not all creeds.”
Following the Canadian court ruling, atheists were jubilant. On My Secret Atheist Blog, one writer called the ban on Gideon Bibles “brilliant.”
“I’ll no doubt read this ruling again and again because, as far as I can tell based on my first quick read-through, it’s absolutely brilliant,” they wrote. “It appears, at first glance at least, to be a clear and decisive victory for everyone who’s interested in keeping religion out of our public schools.”
However, Christians were much less supportive.
“The Bible teaches that all men know God, even though they may wishfully fool themselves into denying it,” one commenter wrote in response to the news. “Without the God of the Bible there is no foundation for morality, logic or science.”
“If atheists are convinced that God doesn’t exist,” another asked, “why do some of them go to such lengths to stop others finding out about Him?”