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Gideons, begone! Calgary hospitals may banish the Bible

CanWest News Service, Canada
Oct. 20, 2003
Robin Summerfield
www.canada.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday October 20, 2003

CALGARY – Bibles in bedside tables may become a thing of the past inside patient rooms at Calgary hospitals.

If the policy is approved, Gideon Bible, a bedside staple provided by Gideons International, will be removed from all hospital rooms in the city and the Calgary Health Region will ban all distribution and display of any printed religious materials in hospitals.

The policy, which is still under review, has drawn both acceptance and criticism from religious leaders.

An official for the health region says the policy is the best way to avoid religious discrimination or even the appearance that the organization favours any one group.

“There’s no interest in restricting access. It’s just that we want it to be non-discriminatory,” said Toni MacDonald, the health region’s director of spiritual care.

Added MacDonald: There’s not enough room in the drawers for all of the materials.”

“The secularists are taking over,” countered Anglican minister Robert Greene, assistant priest at St. John the Evangelist. “This is just one more step in the secularization of society — to get rid of anything of spiritual content.”

The policy, which likely won’t be decided for at least two months, calls for the removal of Gideon bibles from bedside tables, and the posting and distribution of any printed spiritual or religious materials including the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon.

“We thought we needed to do a more careful review of what our current practice is to ensure we are being considerate of all religious faiths,” said MacDonald.

“The goal is to not appear that the health region is endorsing any one religion over another.”

Religious materials, however, would still be available upon request through pastoral services at each hospital.

“The idea is not acceptable to me,” said Imam Mohammad Al Nadvi, Calgary’s Muslim spiritual leader.

It gives the impression, added Al Nadvi, “that faith is maybe some negative thing, some harmful thing.”

“The better option is to solve it, to get together and solve it, than to get rid of it altogether,” he said.

Meanwhile, the head of Calgary’s Jewish community said hospital patients won’t be left out in the spiritual cold.

“I have no problem with it basically because a chaplain is always available when (patients) want them,” said Rabbi Moshe Saks, who leads Calgary’s 700-family strong Beth Tzedec congregation. “There’s plenty of access.”

Spiritual and pastoral services at all hospitals will continue to offer 24-hour on-call advisers of all faiths.

Saks said the issue is part of a bigger problem — “zealous pastors” giving the “hard sell on religion” and people “afraid to talk about religion.”

In an earlier draft form of the policy, the health region also considered the prohibition of sale of religious materials and artifacts in hospital gift stores.

A subsequent draft removed that provision and those items will continue to be for sale.

When asked for a copy of the new draft, MacDonald said it would be “inappropriate” to provide the document until after the issue was finalized.

There are no guidelines currently in place relating to the display or distribution of religious materials at Calgary hospitals.

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