Thursday, August 19, 2004

Bible Banned From Citizenship Ceremonies

Bibles banned from citizenship ceremonies
Last Updated Thu, 19 Aug 2004 10:43:45 EDT

SASKATOON - Citizenship and Immigration Canada has banned the Canadian Bible Society from giving out Bibles at citizenship ceremonies, saying the practice is not consistent with the federal government's secular nature.
"We find that allowing holy books to be made available at citizenship ceremonies detracts from this message and could be construed as a tacit endorsement of certain religions," the citizenship department told the society in a recent letter.
A department spokesman told the CBC it banned the Bibles because it was getting complaints from new citizens, but couldn't say how many complaints because such things are not tracked statistically.
"I was surprised, and the surprise was due to the fact that this came out of the blue," said the society's Len Bachiu. "We had not been told that this was on the horizon."
The society has been handing out Bibles to new Canadians for 50 years, as well as distributing them to many other groups.
Every year, it gives away thousands of the holy books 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.
The Citizenship and Immigration ban on Bibles doesn't sit well with Maurice Vellacott, the Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin.
He 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, and plans to fight the Bible decision too.
"I hear some of the whimsy and flimsy excuses they give but I don't buy that," he said.
Not everybody disagrees with the department's decision, however.
Nayyar Javed, who works with the group Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan, says many people come to this country specifically because it is secular.
"People know that it's a 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."

Written by CBC News Online staff