The Fraser Valley, just east of Vancouver, has a reputation as the buckle of the B.C. Bible Belt, something population growth and cultural diversification apparently has done little to change.
Witness the school board in Chilliwack (population 77,936 in the 2011 census, up 12.6 per cent in five years) opting to allow continued distribution of free Gideon Bibles at public elementary schools, despite a parent's objection.
Richard Ajabu has written to B.C. Education Minister Don McRae to stop the board from allowing Gideons International to give fifth grade students free copies of the New Testament if parents consent.
The Vancouver Sun reported Monday that Ajabu also asked McRae to investigate why his complaint was handled by the board in a private meeting instead of reviewing it publicly.
Ajabu told the Sun he believes the board's decision violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms "but at this point I think that might be overkill so I will not try to do that now."
It's the latest in a spate of clashes in Canada over the distribution of Gideon Bibles in public schools.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear a parent's complaint against the practice in that province after he was denied permission to distribute atheist and other non-religious literature, according to Americans United, which advocates for the separation of church and state.
And a parent in Prince Edward Island was rebuffed when his school district refused to scrap the distribution of Gideon Bibles to Grade five classes. There, the consent form requires parents to opt out of the giveaway rather than give explicit permission, the National Post reported.
Gideons International Canada spokesman Kelvin Warkentin told the Post demand from schools for the Bibles has been declining.
"There has certainly been a steady increase in the past couple of decades of schools closing their doors," he said, adding a reweaving of Canada's "religious fabric" and a rise in complaints from parents has spurred a revaluation of the practice by school boards.
In Manitoba, a St. Francois Xavier elementary school recently was accused of violating the province's Public Schools Act for allowing Bible classes by the Child Evangelism Fellowship without passing a bylaw to allow it, according to CBC News.
The once widespread practice of giving public school pupils Gideon Bibles has dwindled in B.C. as local boards barred it, with Chilliwack and neighbouring Abbotsford the only Vancouver-area boards to allow it, the Sun noted.
Chilliwack district superintendent Evelyn Novak said the issue is a matter of parental choice, and that students may only take a Bible if their parents consent.
But Ajabu said the glossy permission form sent home to parents violates the B.C. School Act because it contains promotional advertising that may appeal to young students, the Sun reported.
"It is often in grade five that a child begins asking the big questions of life: what is right and wrong, what is the purpose of life, and what happens when we die," one line of the document says.
Students who return the signed permission form get "an attractive bright red book titled, 'answer book', that has 25 full colour photos of smiling children on the front cover and is actually a Christian New Testament Bible," Ajabu writes in his letter to the minister, according to the Sun.