Sunday, 8 April 2012

The sixth most hated person in the room

So here is the link that I'm referencing....  Probably best to read it before you read this, or it might not make a whole lot of sense.  Just sayin'....

Ban on Gideons sparks torrent of hate mail

So this past Tuesday night, I went before the Bluewater Board of Education and presented myself as one of many parents who completely support the board in their decision to end the ability of the Gideons (which in some school's it's NOT the Gideon's doing it but local evangelical/fundamentalist church members).  I talked to a lot of parents who said that they completely supported the board in this as religion has no place in public schools unless you were going to present them all.  Now, to the best of my knowledge, there really isn't a set policy in place.  It's essentially "ask for permission, you may or may not receive it."  The BWDSB (oh, and I do realize that I'm being completely obvious in who I am and where I live, but c'est la vie and this is important) was going to go one of two routes - either everyone would be allowed or none would be allowed.

These are public schools.  Emphasis on the word public.  These are not religious schools.  They are inclusive of diversity.  Of different religious, nationalities, ethnic make up, sexual orientation, ability.  And to promote one religion over the other is wrong. Those that are talking about the integrity of the trustees have it wrong when they say that they should continue to promote only one religious opinion.  To vote to do that makes me question that trustee's integrity.  It makes me question it because these trustees (at least two of the three that are voting to maintain religion in school) have multiple religions in their schools.

So this is my speech:

My name is Alice Paisley-Ellis and I am here tonight to present on behalf of the many parents and community members I have spoken with over the past couple of weeks who are in support of the board's decision to take the “nothing” end of an all or nothing policy.

I would first like to make a couple of things clear. Many of you may know me from another one of my capacities. With one exception, I am not here tonight to represent any of them. And with that one exception, I am not representing our council specifically. I am also not here tonight representing my faith. I am solely a parent who, upon speaking to other parents, was asked to transmit our views to the board, as so far it appears that the only group doing the talking is the group that is against the boards' decision. I would also like to say that I am from this area, a graduate of both the now-closed W.E. Thompson Public School and Kincardine District Secondary School under the former Bruce County Board of Education, so I am not coming at this from an outsider, but of someone who has been first a student, then a daughter of a teacher and now a parent of two students within this particular school board, both now and in its' previous Bruce County state.

There are a few very vocal people that seem to think that the louder they are the more sway their words will hold on this issue. The more the scream and yell, the more they use “interesting” logic, the more the board will move to their side and allow the distribution of Bibles to the fifth graders within our schools. But let's make one thing clear – these are nothing more than the bullying tactics of the minority. Saying that the Bible is (and I quote) “indispensable in education” is patently false in a public school system. While the Catholic school system and private Christian schools may use the Bible as a means to teach their lessons, this is their right.

The fact is, in today's society, one or more of the children in each classroom is more likely than not to be non-Christian. In fact, upon asking the principal of my own children's school, I learned that within that school there is not a single classroom which is homogeneous in terms of race or religion. This is becoming more and more the norm in Canada. While historically the public schools were set up as the Protestant schools and while the Bible was used a main source to teach reading and writing, this was done based on the way the world was when Canada was created in 1867. This is no longer 1867. This is 2012. And Canada in 2012 is no longer a homogeneous society in terms of race or religion. While the majority may still be white and claim Christianity (practising or not) there are still others here – others that are in our schools, in our classrooms, and deserve the same respect that is being demanded by them.

As I have previously said, I have spoken to many parents over the past couple of weeks. I have spoken to parents who claim no affiliation to a particular faith but call themselves spiritual, to Christians of many denominations, both practising and not, to Muslims, one Jew (though admittedly not of our school system) and yes, even an Atheist or two. Many in the south Bruce shoreline area that I spoke to at first thought I was joking when I brought up the subject of Bible distribution on our schools. Of all the people I spoke to, only one didn't see what (to quote) “the big deal was” about sending home a permission slip, and in my job, I have many opportunities to talk to many, many people.

There were a couple of points that came up repeatedly in my conversations. The first was the teachers. Most, if not all, of us believed that using the teachers as their vehicle for proselytization was not a position we are comfortable with our child's teacher being in. Their job is to teach our kids science and math, reading and social studies. It's not to find out whether or not our family is interested in a Bible, therefore finding out our family's religious views. Their job is to teach – not to hand out permission slips for those that are not distributing material that is relevant to the curriculum that they are teaching.

The second was the reason in which the Waterloo Region Board of Education went to the “nothing” end of the spectrum, the reason that we end up here tonight because those distributing the Bibles wanted to make sure that didn't happen. Would the same people who are demanding the Bibles still be distributed in schools keep quiet, not protest and extend the right to other faith groups to send permission slips home for their religious materials? For those that are unaware of why the Waterloo board went the way they did, to quote from the June 14, 2011 KW Record :

The decision was based in part on the recommendation of legal counsel the board sought in January after the suggestion a Kitchener masjid intended to distribute free Qur’ans through the same program sparked vitriolic reaction.

The reaction within the broader community to the possibility of (including) other groups . . . it was quite disturbing,”

So our question is this – is the Bluewater Board willing to stand up against what, in my experience in living in this area, growing up a practising Christian and later converting to Islam, will be just as vitriolic here? Are they willing to state beyond a shadow of a doubt that, whether those in the public with the loudest voices like it or not, that other groups will be able to distribute theirs? That the Latter-day Saints will be able to distribute the Book of Mormon or the Jehovah's Witnesses will be able to distribute their Watchtower literature? Will the Hindus be allowed to distribute their Theda Vedas should they so choose, and yes, will the Muslims be able to distribute the Qur'an? Will the board stand by their all decision and not put themselves in a position that then becomes a legal liability if certain members of a school refuse to distribute it?

In conversation with Dave Trumble of the Grey Bruce Labour Council, his question to the board was this – right now, this policy has to deal with religion. But where does it end? If the Bible is allowed to be distributed, what about other faith books? If faith books are allowed to be freely distributed, what about union materials? If unions like the PWU or Labourers are allowed, will the teacher's union be allowed? If unions are allowed will the politicians be allowed in to preach to our children, even if our family values do not match that particular political party? He believes, as do I, as do many other parents, that the board is taking the correct steps in taking the “nothing” end of the spectrum for their policy - to stop unnecessary distribution of non-instructional material within our school system in its' tracks.

The only part of this in which I do speak in a capacity other than just a parent is to say this: I am the SCC chair of my children's school. While I am not speaking for the SCC, I am speaking as the chairperson, on behalf of another Kincardine-area chairperson, as well as a current Hanover SCC chair and a former Owen Sound SCC chair, all of which I have spoken to over the past few days. Not one of us is in agreement with some who think that this should be a decision passed down to the SCCs. We do not believe that this is an SCC decision, nor that it would be a good thing to do, as you'd have the potential to end up with 53 different policies and no uniformity from school to school, also potentially leaving a legal liability for the acceptance of one faith's literature but the refusal of another. None of us want to be in that position and believe the board has made the right decision in creating this policy for all schools and not leaving it to a school-by-school council basis.

I thank you for the time to speak and hope you will take the thoughts of parents who support the board's position into consideration.

* somewhere in there, I also referenced the previous speaker in that while they are saying that they'd be accepting of all other faith books, including the Qur'an, my experience in Bruce County tells me otherwise. My experience is that I have been told mean, hateful, vile things. That I have been verbally attacked for my faith, especially after I started wearing the head scarf. Things that happened to the point that there was someone I had to take to my work place's code of conduct (and to add, another who my employer (not my work place) fired for comments). My experience tells me that people will say to your face one thing, but when handed the Qur'an or other Islamic literature, the real reaction is quite different.   

Over the next couple of days, this was all over the press.  The local media was there (as usual) covering the school board meeting.  I spoke with them afterwards and was quoted in a couple of different articles.  Mostly, however, what they focused on was that there are members of the Christian community in the area who have decided that the best way to fight this potential ban (well, the final vote is in a week and a half, and while we know which way the vote will go, right now it is still theoretically potential) is to send our trustees death threats.  Or just threats in general.  Or call them names.  Or, well, pick something. They've probably been told it, left it on their voice mail or have it e-mailed.  (And I mean, really?  If you're going to send threats do you think maybe you'd pick a better way than something that is directly traceable back to you?  People up here aren't too bright.)

So then tonight along comes this article.  And I actually get to see the words that people have said for the first time.  I was originally told that they'd been receiving some really horrible e-mails.  I asked no more.  I live here, I had a pretty good idea.  But honestly, when I heard they were receiving death threats, that was more than I expected, even by Bruce County standards.  I've been told I'm going to hell, I've been told I should burn in hell, I've been told that I've been possessed, I've been told I'm stupid and naive for believing that Islam doesn't subjugate women (oh wait - I know how to distinguish culture from religion.)

So here's my response to this article... (besides wanting to throw something heavy at someone)

Honestly, it is not our trustees who are the "idiots" but the people writing these e-mails - the people that are so backwoods and backwards thinking that they don't understand that this country is no longer functioning - as I said in my speech - in 1867 but 2012.  That Canada is not a homogeneous society any more by any stretch of the imagination. Sadly, though, I've had friends (who are "brown") who've been told that they moved up here to "get away from brown people."  Well, in that case, the more I welcome the "brown people."  Because I'd rather be friends with them than the bigots who admit the moved here to get away from them.

Canadian heritage is not distributing the Bible in schools.  Canadian heritage is being welcoming to newcomers, not belittling them.  Allowing them to keep their faith without trying to convert them to yours.  Canadian heritage is already so watered down by American media I'm failing to see where it is anyway.  Canadian heritage is things like celebrating Canadian victory in the War of 1812 (though grated, that wasn't Canada, but British North America).  Canadian heritage is learning about how Canada was formed - through the Natives and the French and the English.  Canadian heritage...oh wait, Canadian heritage is also about giving pox covered blankets to native tribes to try and wipe them out.  Canadian heritage is to force Natives into residential schools and beat their language and traditions out of them while sexually abusing some of them.  Canadian heritage is about forcing Japanese into concentration style camps on the west coast during WWII.  But no where - NO WHERE - is Canadian heritage about handing out Bibles.  That didn't even start until the early 1900s.  It hasn't even been going on for 100 years.  So no, while it may have become tradition in some places, it is not heritage.  (To which I'd like to give that author a dictionary with "heritage" and "tradition" highlighted.  And then refer to him as a twit.  Not that any of that would be helpful.)

It's ironic, though, that it was not the "newcomers" that brought this motion before the Bluewater Board of Education.  If you look back at previous articles, it was the Gideon Society and the Lutheran church out of Hanover that brought it before the board, yet they seem to want to turn it around on newcomers.  No one was complaining.  No one was saying a thing.  And then the Waterloo Region Board of Education enacted a policy banning all distribution of religious materials in their public school system.  Why?  Because when an imam at a local mosque was going to ask for permission to distribute the Qur'an under the exact same policy that those that distribute Bibles use, all hell broke loose.  The lawyer the board consulted with told them it was in their best interest to enact the policy.  I do not know - nor was it reported - what was being said or done, just that the paper quoted someone from the board as saying the sentiment was "vitriolic" and the things being said were "disturbing."  But the facts are the facts - no newcomer (and for these people, newcomer also means anyone who wasn't born in Grey or Bruce counties.  I didn't move here until I was 10.  I'm now 35.  I'm still not considered "from" here, nor will I ever be) put this up before the board.  It was the Gideon society, the Lutheran church, the Christians themselves who did it.  They shot themselves in the foot.  Had they left well enough alone, we would not have been where we are now and they could have continued to distribute the Bibles in schools.

Could someone please tell me how they've broken the 10 Commandments.  Let's see...

1.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before me.

Hmmmm...nope. Nothing in there.  Last I checked the board wasn't asking us to subscribe to other gods.  Just asking you to keep God out of the classroom.

2.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Yeah.  Not seeing anything there. The Board of Education is most definitely not asking us to carve anything and bow down to it.  Maybe there's something in the third commandment?

3.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

No.  Okay, now I'm getting confused as to what commandments the board has broken.  And the person in the article definitely said the plural.  Three down, nothing there, seven to go...

4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.  In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Okay, admittedly, I broke the Sabbath this week.  Be it believed to be on Saturday or Sunday, I broke it.  I went to work both days this weekend.  However, the Bluewater Board of Education, it's trustees, it's teachers, it's other workers and most definitely it's students?  None of them were at work/school.  Or, at least not by the mandate of the BWDSB. So they didn't break this one.  In fact, this one I'm pretty sure they're good at keeping.  

5.  Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

I'm definitely not being asked to dishonour my parents.  Though admittedly my father does not like the stance in which I am taking.  However, he's one of the two people (the other being my mother) who taught me to stand up for what I believe is right.  It just so happens that I don't always believe what they believe is right.  And I know my kids may (okay, will) stand up for things that I don't believe is right.  But that's the way it goes - teach them how to do it, but don't expect they're always going to make the same choices as you.  

6.  You shall not murder.

Oh!  Oh!  I think we've got one! wait.  That would be the other side. The people threatening the trustees.  The trustees haven't asked us to murder anyone.

7.  You shall not commit adultery.  

Yeah.  No.  Now that would just be weird.  Next...

8.  You shall not steal.

Now, I'm pretty sure that there's probably some rule somewhere that is in place within the BWDSB that you can't steal.  Besides the fact it's the law.  So this one's definitely not part of the list of commandments they are breaking.

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

Now, while the BWDSB isn't asking us to do that, I do believe that there are members of they very loud evangelical Christian side of this article who are doing just that by making claims (like breaking the commandments) that are just that-  false witness against your neighbour.  And I'm using neighbour very loosely in this case.

And finally...

10.  You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour's.

I'm pretty sure the trustees aren't coveting my house.  No one would.  Also pretty sure that there are no servants to be coveted.  There may be an ox or two in the area, but also pretty sure they don't want the ox.  Or donkey.  However, if the school board owns a donkey, I'm totally going to covet it.  ;)

So please, explain to me (because apparently I'm missing something) where "no longer allowing the distribution of religious materials in a public school" breaks multiple commandments, because I'm really confused.

I support my trustee.  I love my trustee.  I've known my trustee for many years.  When I was in high school I was one of my trustee's kids' extracurricular activity leader, so I wouldn't be surprised if I made her feel old at times.  And, provided things work out with my other ongoing issue, I'll be at the next meeting to support the trustees who are voting in favour of this motion - even if I'm the only other one in the room that agrees.

Oh, and the sixth most hated person in the room?  That would be me.  Right behind the five trustees that voted in favour of the motion to vote on it at the next meeting.


  1. Thanks Alice! I forgot to add that sadly we do not own a donkey or ox so you don't have to worry about coveting them!
    As usual great blog. I have received many supportive emails today after the article by the Canadian Press was posted 'EVERYWHERE' it seems!
    Happy holiday

  2. I'm almost afraid to ask:
    It is my hope that a school library would provide guidance in aquisition if not the literature itself requested by any student?
    I hope that my kids could request any religious material they desire through the school library - which is not to say I expect it will be provided, but at least direction to obtain it - religious or not.