The Canadian Bible Society has been banned from giving out Bibles at citizenship ceremonies, says a local source. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the Canada Department of Citizenship and Immigration announced the ban, saying the practice is not consistent with the federal government’s secular nature.
“I was surprised, and the surprise was due to the fact that this came out of the blue,” the society’s Len Bachiu told the CBC. “We had not been told that this was on the horizon.”
For 50 years, the society has been handing out Bible to new Canadians, as well as distributing them to many other groups. And each year, it gives away thousands of Holy Scriptures in dozens of languages.
“We give Hebrew Old Testaments to Hebrew students, Greek New Testaments to Greek students; we provide scriptures to people who receive a home through Habitat for Humanity,” Bachiu said.
In a recent letter to the society, the Canadian Citizenship Department wrote: “We find that allowing holy books to be made available at citizenship ceremonies detracts from [the message of the federal government’s secular nature] and could be construed as a tacit endorsement of certain religions.”
Nayyar Javed, who works with the group Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan, agreed with the department’s decision, saying that many people come go to Canada specifically because it is secular.
“People know that it’s multicultural and secular state. It’s a great country,” she said. “That’s the worldwide image Canada has, and so people come thinking that they will be treated as equal citizens and there won’t be any religious distinctions one way or the other.”
For many, however, the ban doesn’t sit well.
“I hear some of the whimsy and flimsy excuses they give but I don’t buy that,” said Maurice Vellacott, the Conservative MP (Member of Parliament) for Saskatoon-Wanuskein.
Vellacott plans to fight the Bible decision, having had his own run-in with the citizenship department last December when it asked him not to refer to God while giving a speech at a citizenship ceremony (he did anyway, citing the fact that God is referred to in the preamble to the Constitution).
Many more are likely to protest the decision also, as 82 percent of Canada’s population of 32 million is Christian (46 percent Catholic, 36 Protestant).