Credits: STUART DRYDEN/QMI AGENCY
The 8-3 final vote in Chesley, ON, ends more than 60 years of free Bibles for Grade 5 students presented outside class time by the Gideon Bible Society.
Trustees said the vote wasn't about ridding schools of Bibles, but was about ending the Gideon access because schools could not feasibly offer the same to all religious groups, which the board must allow, according to legal advice.
"This does not eliminate Bibles from our schools," vice-chair of the Bluewater District School Board Jim Dawson said before the vote, which confirmed the board's decision two weeks ago in a committee session.
"This is a secular school system," said Owen Sound trustee Marg Gaviller. "There are lots of other opportunities for people to get their Bibles."
About 30 people attended the meeting, far fewer than expected after standing room crowds at earlier board sessions during the policy review, which began several months ago.
Off-duty police were hired for security due to safety concerns following several threatening e-mails and phone calls to trustees in recent weeks, board chair Jan Johnstone confirmed before the meeting.
"Finally someone is speaking for my kids," Alice Paisley-Ellis, a Kincardine-area school council chair whose family is Muslim, said after the meeting.
Mike Yuhasz, an Owen Sound father of two daughters, also welcomed the decision after the meeting. He was one of two people who spoke to trustees as a delegation before the vote Tuesday night and warned the alternative draft policy allowing all faith groups access could lead to messages of discrimination, hatred and "psychological abuse."
"I don't think there's much debate," he said. "I absolutely disagree with religion in a public school system."
Bevan Lougheed said after the vote, trustees were "giving up heritage values to have some pretext of equality" because of a growing immigrant population in Canada.
Lougheed also spoke to trustees as a delegation, urging the board to instead consult the community and provide appropriate religious programming in schools. He also told trustees voters expected consultation on the policy before a final decision.
Marilyn McComb urged her trustees to reject any new policy and simply return to past practice, which allowed the Gideons, in consultation with principals, to distribute the Bibles outside class.
"The system was not broken, so why fix it," McComb said, her own Gideon Bible beside her at the meeting. "I believe it's time we stood up for what we believe."
Officials said several schools have not had requests in several years from Gideons International to distribute Bibles. Education director John Bryant confirmed new Gideon requests have recently come to at least two schools. He also confirmed at least two other faith groups have asked board officials for similar access, but there could have been more, since those requests are usually handled by school principals.
Gideons have been giving Bibles outside class time to Grade 5 students whose parents agree for about 60 years. A complaint two years ago highlighted the Bluewater board's lack of any clear policy about distribution of religious materials in schools, which led to Tuesday night's decision.