Couple to debate right to distribute atheist book

TORONTO – A Grimsby couple who want to have a book on atheism distributed to students attending the District School Board of Niagara will have the chance to make their case before an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Rene and Anna Chouinard, who have three children, have been fighting with the board for more than two years to have an age-appropriate publication — Just Pretend: A Free Thought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist — distributed to Grade 5 students.

The couple, who are humanists and follow a religion-free way of life, took their case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Aug. 20 and were granted a hearing on the issue. While no date has yet been set for the proceeding, the tribunal allowed the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Canadian Civil Liberties Association to act as interveners in two-days of hearings.

The fight began after the Chouinards’ refused to sign a consent form for their daughter to distribute Gideon International Bibles at her school.

They then unsuccessfully sought to obtain permission to distribute Just Pretend, citing other groups should be allowed to have their publications distributed in Niagara schools as well.

“This is a solid decision by the tribunal that is good for society,” Rene said after being granted a hearing. “We would like to see religion completely removed from the classroom.”

He said the Niagara school board should focus on education and not religion or other issues.

The Chouinards alleged they were discriminated against “due to creed” and that no material from non-Christian religions were solicited or distributed in the district.

“If they allow Gideon Bibles in the schools, then why can’t other groups distribute their material as well,” he said on Tuesday. “This is not fair for people who may believe in other religions.”

He said Jews should be able to leave Torahs and Muslims their Koran in area schools.

But a board lawyer told the tribunal that no religious group was discriminated against and “Just Pretend” contained content that was “inappropriate” for distribution.

“This case involves important issues of (Human Rights) Code interpretation, and could have consequences for school boards, students and parents across Ontario,” the tribunal said in its decision.

Gideons International in Canada, which claims to be a non-denominational Christian organization, has been distributing Bibles to students in Canadian public schools since 1936.

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