What is religion doing in my child’s public school?

(Updated February 2018)

If you have questions or concerns regarding religion in your child’s public school, then You Are Not Alone. It may appear as part of a formal program (Religious Instruction or Religious Exercises), or as the informal proselytization of students. HAAM regularly receives messages from parents about these issues.

Formal Religious Programs

Both Religious Instruction and Religious Exercises are subject to the regulations described in Articles 80-84 of the Public Schools Act of Manitoba.

Note that these regulations may apply to any religion if the conditions are met.


Religious Exercises usually refers to a brief daily devotional period outside of class time, in which students meet to recite a prayer, listen to a reading from the Bible (or another holy book), or sing a hymn.

Religious Instruction refers to the teaching of religion (sometimes during class time).

The relevant guidelines in the legislation have been conveniently explained and summarized in the Manitoba Education and Training’s Administrative Handbook for Schools, which can be found as a PDF on the Government of Manitoba website. Click here to view or download it. Unfortunately, there are no page numbers in the document, but topics are arranged alphabetically, with Religious Exercises and Religious Instruction being topics 5 and 6 under the R’s. (You may also be able to find the relevant section beginning on page 74 in your PDF viewer.)

HAAM has learned from parents that a number of Manitoba schools disregard the rules outlined in the handbook; usually because they are continuing practices based on longstanding ‘tradition’, and parents in the area are unable and/or unwilling to challenge the practice. If you are aware of infractions, we would like to know about them. In future, we plan to expose them on this page.

Organizations Proselytizing in Manitoba Schools

HAAM is aware of at least two Christian organizations, well-known for proselytizing to children, that currently operate in some schools in Manitoba. They are always trying to expand into more schools; usually in the fall when extra-curricular activities are being set up. These organizations are:

Child Evangelism Fellowship

Discovery Time is a Christian Bible study class taught by volunteers from the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) to kids in public schools. Discovery Time is allowed under the ‘Religious Instruction’ section of the Public Schools Act.  These classes usually take place at lunch, but sometimes occur during school hours or after school.

CEF runs a number of other programs for children in Manitoba as well, including the community-based Good News Club and a summer day program. CEF programs entice children with snacks, games, prizes, songs, and other fun activities, but the clubs’ innocent-sounding names mask their dark message of indoctrination. The curriculum includes concepts like sin, shame, obedience, punishment, and hell. Read more about the dark side of the Good News Club here, and watch these excellent documentary videos.

Samaritan’s Purse

Operation Christmas Child is a charity project of Samaritan’s Purse, in which school children fill shoe boxes with small toys and gifts to be shipped to children in third world countries. The toys and gifts are then delivered to a central depot for sorting and shipping overseas. Sounds like harmless, well-intentioned fun, until you learn its real intent.

Samaritan’s Purse is a self-described “non-denominational evangelical Christian organization” led by Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham). It promotes conservative Christianity, and Franklin’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as the news media, reveal his racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic and otherwise bigoted views. Its literature claims that

Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse Canada has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

The Real Goal of Samaritan’s Purse

Note that the main purpose of this organization is NOT to help meet the needs of people, but rather to explicitly and proudly to proselytize Christianity. In their reasons for packing a shoe box, they explain that

Operation Christmas Child provides an opportunity for people of all ages to be involved in a simple, hands-on project… that focuses on the true meaning of Christmas – Jesus Christ – God’s greatest gift.” … “Following the shoebox distributions, local churches and ministry partners are equipped with a 12-lesson Bible study course, titled The Greatest Journey, which introduces interested children to Jesus, shows them how to receive Him and follow Him, and equips them to share their faith with family and friends.”

This short video makes the real purpose of shoebox project abundantly clear.

So the boxes of toys are essentially a bribe, expressly used to pressure desperately poor children living in developing countries (including Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uruguay and Venezuela) to convert to Christianity, and are delivered with prayers, sermons, evangelical tracts and pressure to convert. While a private religious group is free to pursue such a goal, it is not an appropriate cause for a public school to be involved in. The school is plainly sending the message to young children that the Christianity at the core of Operation Christmas Child is stamped with the school’s seal of approval.

Alpha Club

Manitoba’s anti-bullying legislation is intended to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. Although initially, the most significant social issue prompting the development of the legislation was opposition to Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s) in high schools, the guidelines apply equally to all student groups and clubs.

A government publication titled Safe and Caring Schools: Respect for Diversity Policies outlines the application of this legislation. (The full document can be downloaded here.) It applies to all Manitoba public schools, and publicly-funded private schools. The FAQ’s in Appendix E (page 26) make it clear that

“…students wanting to form a religiously based student-led group would be accorded equality of opportunity to do so. Students should be allowed to form after-school clubs or have activities based on religion, as long as membership is voluntarily open to any student in the school and the activities of the group are conducted in a safe and inclusive manner. The club should be used as a vehicle to discuss issues that have an impact on the members as students. It is important to recognize that such groups are like any other club that is available at a school except they have a religious connection. Therefore, they should be treated the same as any other student-initiated club in the school such as a GSA, chess club, astronomy club, or judo club.” (emphasis ours)

Religious ‘clubs’ in high schools

A coalition of youth pastors, known as the Manitoba Youth Workers Network (MYWN), is taking advantage of this opportunity to spread Christianity to public schools. They have collaborated to develop an outreach program aimed at Winnipeg high school students. The way it works is that these youth pastors are training teenage members of their own churches to evangelize directly to their classmates at school. The training is based on the new Alpha Youth Series program, a series of flashy apologetics videos targeting young people. The next step is for these teen evangelists to launch student-led Alpha programs in their own high schools. They believe that “Jesus is calling [them] to reach the city”.

In January 2018, the MYWN completed their first ‘training’ course with 70 teens from churches around Winnipeg, eager to encourage their friends to ‘come to Christ’. As of February 2018, there are Alpha programs running in at least three Winnipeg high schools already. Expect more to appear. You might find that your teenager has joined a group like this before you even knew it existed.

What Can I Do?

1. Before joining, supporting, endorsing, or contributing to any organization, be sure to check out its mission statement to make sure it reflects your own values and beliefs. There are plenty of charities that could use our support which are run by secular and/or religious organizations who do not make religion a primary goal, component and/or requirement of their work.

2. Clearly, it’s not enough to raise your children in a secular home and think that by the time they are teens, they won’t be gullible enough to listen to fairy tales.

Teach them critical thinking skills. Encourage them to be skeptical and to ask questions.
Make sure that they learn about other belief systems and world religions.
Teach your kids how to think, not what to think.
Remember, critical thinking skills apply not just to religion, but to miracle cures, conspiracy theories, get-rich-quick schemes, fad diets….

3. If you have questions, concerns, personal knowledge of, or experience with religious practices in public schools, we’d like to hear from you. HAAM will protect your privacy. Our goal is to expose and eventually end practices that contravene the Public Schools Act.  Working together, we can help to make our public schools welcoming and inclusive for all Manitoba children.