Extra security will be on hand when a public school board in southern Ontario takes a final vote tonight on whether to ban free handouts of Gideon Bibles.
Based on previous votes, Bluewater District trustees are expected to put an end to the handouts to Grade 5 students by barring distribution of all non-instructional religious materials.
The issue has sparked heated emotions, with some trustees receiving threats and hate mail.
The local chapter of Gideons International in Canada and some church elders have distanced themselves from those who accuse trustees of “unCanadian” and “unChristian” behaviour.
The chairwoman of the board expects the meeting to be packed.
At least one delegation is slated to speak against the ban.
Based on a legal opinion and concerns about the cost of allowing distribution of all religious materials, the trustees have so far opted to ban such handouts as several other school boards across Canada have done.
The invective of those opposed to the ban unnerved some trustees of the Bluewater board, which has more than 18,000 students in 53 schools.
Chairwoman Jan Johnstone said Monday that a recent article by The Canadian Press on the torrent of hate mail directed at trustees, some of it racist, prompted a new wave of correspondence.
This time, however, Ms. Johnstone said correspondents from across Canada and the United States were by and large “overwhelmingly supportive” of the pending ban.
Ms. Johnstone also said she anticipated one trustee would try to amend the motion to bar distribution of religious materials.
“I believe (the amendment) will not pass (and) that the Board will pass the motion as written.”
Ban proponents argue distribution of the Bibles has no place in a secular school system, and that it potentially violates human rights legislation.
One writer blamed the decision on “a handful of non-Christian elected officials.”
Some parents have said they would take their children out of the public system if the ban sticks.
Ms. Johnstone stressed the ban applies only to non-instructional religious materials.
“Multi-faith content in the public elementary and secondary school curriculum for educational purposes will continue,” Ms. Johnstone said.
“Bibles and other religious texts will continue to be available in our libraries.”
Gideons International in Canada said the organization would take a ban with “complete acceptance.”