An atheist couple is making headlines for their push to distribute an atheism book to Canadian schoolchildren through the public education system. Rene and Anna Chouinard have been working feverishly to have the book, “Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist” given out to children attending the District School Board of Niagara in Ontario.
Rene and Anna have three kids in the education system and they’ve been in a battle with the board over the controversial book for more than two years. According to the Toronto SUN, the couple follows “a religion-free way of life” and, naturally, they purportedly want to see others — particular impressionable children — pursue the same avenue. As a result, they’d like to see “Just Pretend” make its way into the hands of fifth grade students in the public school district.
On the surface, some will find their quest bizarre, but the couple’s history fighting with the board provides insight into their reasoning for continuing their atheistic charge. The argument with officials commenced after the Chouinards’ began railing against the distribution of Gideon International Bibles within the school district (the organization has been giving Bibles out to public school kids since 1936, although the practice was banned back in April in a separate district).
After realizing that the holy book was being handed out to students, Rene and Anna, too, wanted a book that represents their humanistic worldview to be made available to school children. However, after initial attempts, they were unsuccessful in getting permission to distribute “Just Pretend.”
So, the couple petitioned the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on August 20 and they were granted a hearing to explore the issue further. While a date has not yet been set, the couple is elated that their views on the matter will be heard. In the wake of the decision to grant the family a chance to argue their case, Rene said, “This is a solid decision by the tribunal that is good for society. We would like to see religion completely removed from the classroom.”
He also said that, if Gideon Bibles are given out, then other groups, too, should have their voices heard through dissemination of books that represent their theological worldviews. “This is not fair for people who may believe in other religions,” he said on Tuesday, according to the SUN. In Rene’s view, Jews should have Torahs available and Muslims should have access to Korans.
This argument is noteworthy, considering that The District School Board of Niagara loosened its regulations back in 2010 to purportedly allow for additional texts from other faiths outside of the Christian realm to be made available. NiagaraThisWeek.com has more (based on its 2010 report):
On Feb. 23  the school board replaced its existing policy, which allowed Gideon International to distribute New Testaments to Grade 5 students within the board, with a new policy which opens the door for other religious groups to solicit information to students. The new policy caters to Niagara’s diverse population, said spokesperson Brett Sweeney.
“We have many different students of different cultures and faith in Niagara and we wanted to be more inclusive and reflect that diversity,” Sweeney said, noting religion is not taught in the classroom. “We have heard from parents who appreciate that material is available and from one who doesn’t. This policy strikes a good balance between both.”
In this same article, Rene seemed anything but interested in defending the rights of other religious groups. In fact, he made it clear that faith has no place at all in the classroom (a sentiment that, in fairness, has come up, as noted above, in the current debate).
“I object to public schools pushing religion. A school is not the place to push religion — no matter what religion it is,” he said. “We send our kids to public schools because we don’t want them to learn religion” (he did say that learning about faith in a cultural or historical sense is acceptable, though).
As the controversy continues, the school board maintains that no one was discriminated against and that the atheist book the family sought to have handed out was “inappropriate” for the children who would be receiving it. A description for the book reads, “Autobiographical story of journeying from fundamentalist/evangelical minister to atheist. Includes criticism of religion, fallacies and harm of Christianity, and invocation of freethought, reason and humanism.”
In 2010, when the family was just beginning its complaint against the district, the ways in which the Bibles are distributed were explained in detail. It seems the books aren’t simply handed out. Instead, there are some steps to take before kids can get a copy:
Gideon bibles have been available at roughly half of the board’s 98 schools for a number of years, said [district spokesperson Brett] Sweeney. The religious material is available to students who request it and have written consent from their parent or guardian. Once the school receives permission from a parent, the material is distributed outside of school hours, Sweeney noted. The bibles are not “pushed” on students in any way, he added.
Distribution of religious material is not a major part of what the school board does, said Sweeney, noting the focus is, and has always been, on improving literacy and numeracy in students.
Interestingly, the “Just Pretend” book was penned by Dan Barker, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group based in Madison, Wisconsin. To say that he and his group are controversial is, based on TheBlaze’s extensive coverage over the past two years, an understatement.
(H/T: Toronto SUN)