You know, every time -- every single time -- I even start to think remotely charitably about organized religion, one of its representatives manages to bring me back to reality. This time, it's the Gideons, who are determined to continue to distribute free Bibles to students in B.C. who ask for them.
Let's set the stage:
For 60 years, the Gideons, a lay association of Christians, have given Bibles to Grade 5 pupils across Canada through public schools.
All of them? Every student? Well, no, not quite:
The Gideons no longer automatically bring Bibles to schools across the country every year, but wait for requests. Every year, each of the 38 elementary schools in Richmond receives one or two requests for Bibles, Mr. Beairsto said.
"Requests?" From who exactly? Ah, here we go:
The Richmond board's policy is to place a notice in school newsletters, and Grade 5 pupils may take a form home for their parents to sign if they want a Gideon Bible. The children return the form to the school, which relays the request to the Gideons, who bring the Bibles to the schools.
Ah, so the requests come from individual students. Now, follow along here -- can anyone else spot the absurdity in this process?
First, this entire idiotic program is based on the assumption that any child who really wants a Bible has no other way to get one. However, given the fact that the student has to take home a form to be signed by the parents, did it ever occur to those parents to maybe, just maybe, go out and get that Bible themselves? Lots of good bookstores around, I'm pretty sure at least one of them will have a Bible for sale. Why get the school board involved? But it just gets sillier.
Given that the form goes home to the parents, why can't it be a mail-in form to be sent directly to the Gideons, at which point a shiny new Bible will arrive forthwith in the mail? Why continue to have the school board involved at all? But that's not the stupidest part.
What I don't understand is why the local churches aren't absolutely outraged by this program. If a child genuinely wants a Bible and the family truly can't afford one, why aren't those local churches stepping in to fill that need? I can't think of a better PR campaign for a local church than to advertise that all new Sunday school students will receive a free Bible. Problem solved. Church gets good PR, Sunday school class gets extra student, student gets free Bible, school board stays the hell out of it and everyone's happy. Well, everyone but the Gideons who are just a bunch of sleazy, opportunistic hacks, anyway.
And yet, we have the local clergy being way too freakin' stupid to understand how they're being undercut by the Gideons:
Rev. Gary Simpson of the Broadway Church in Chilliwack, which has Gideons among its members, said when he was in Grade 5 in the late 1960s, Bibles were automatically distributed, requested or not.
"Obviously, the Gideons are interested in conversion, otherwise they wouldn't be doing this. They hope the Bible can help kids in need and they believe God can change someone's life," Mr. Simpson said.
I would describe the Rev. Simpson as an idiot, but I fear that would be a mortal insult to idiots everywhere. However, in the end, it's not really about freedom of religion at all, is it? Well, it is, as long as it's their flavour of religion:
"We don't proselytize, of course. This is a vexing issue that we've wrestled with as to what multiculturalism means," Mr. Beairsto said. "If someone wanted to distribute the Koran the same way, we would be quite happy to do it in an equitable way.
Really? Fair and equal treatment for all? Whoops, not quite:
Mr. Beairsto said some school trustees raised concerns at the meeting Ms. Gepraegs attended about what would happen if a less mainstream religion, such as the Wiccans, also requested that their materials be distributed.
"If one of those odd things come up, we will talk to our parent groups and try to share a collective wisdom," he said yesterday.
Yeah, freedom of religion is a terrific idea. Unless it applies to those fucking Wiccans. I mean, we have to draw the line somewhere, dontcha know? And why don't we give the intellectually-stunted Rev. Simpson the last bigoted, narrow-minded word here:
"But I'm not sure it's right to do it in a public school system. I would be willing to shut the whole supply off, if it means our kids are going to be bombarded with 50 options. My Bible doesn't need to be out there if that's the case."
Free Bibles? A great idea. Free other holy books? Not so much, apparently.
AFTERSNARKS: There is just so much more to say about this. First, one has to ask just how desperate the need is for free Bibles in the first place:
Every year, each of the 38 elementary schools in Richmond receives one or two requests for Bibles, Mr. Beairsto said.
One or two per school? That's it? This entire controversy is based on one or two students per school who allegedly have no other way to get a Bible? Oh, please. Just go to your nearest hotel and ask for a free one out of one of the rooms. How hard can that be?
Then there's the Gideons' Paul Mercer, possibly saying one of the dumbest things I've heard this year:
Executive director Paul Mercer of Gideons International in Canada said that throughout Canada, 250,000 to 300,000 Bibles a year are requested by students. Years ago, schools and the Gideons decided Grade 5 was the appropriate age to receive the Bible, he said.
"It's been done since the mid-1940s, and the offer is made. Some can say no and some can say, 'we want one,' " Mr. Mercer said. "We just simply believe that everybody should have the opportunity of owning a Bible."
Here's a suggestion, Paul. Why not add a Bible request form to your web site? That way, anyone who was interested could fill out an online form and have a Bible mailed to them. No school board involvement, everyone who wants a Bible gets one and everyone's happy. Well, everybody except you, since this has nothing to do with Bible distribution and everything to do with proselytizing in the public school system, but that'll be our dirty little secret, right? But here's the most disturbing part of all of this:
Renate Gepraegs thought she had stepped back in time when she opened her son's public-school newsletter and read a notice from the Gideon Society about free Bibles.
How exactly do the Gideons have the right to submit content for a public-school newsletter? One would think that the content of a school newsletter should be precisely restricted to official school or school board issues. In what way do the Gideons qualify for that?
It would seem that the Gideons have a special deal that allows them to advertise in the pages of a school newsletter where no one else can do the same thing, which inspires me to suggest the following legal strategy.
If the Gideons are allowed to continue to advertise there, then other local companies should submit their content as well. "$10 off lube, oil and filter at The Muffler Guys!", that sort of thing. And when those local businesses are (as they will be) turned down, they should immediately sue, pointing out that if the Gideons, who are completely unrelated to the public school system, are allowed to "advertise" in the pages of the newsletter, everyone else should have that right as well.
I'm sure hilarity and chaos would ensue.