Surrey police draw backlash for allowing distribution of free Gideon Bibles

The Surrey Police has drawn complaint for allowing the distribution of free Bibles. | Pixabay/StockSnap

The police and crime commissioner (PCC) in Surrey, England has drawn criticism from a secularist group for allowing the distribution of 1,000 Bibles from Gideons International.

According to getSurrey, the National Secular Society (NSS) had raised concerns about "religious favoritism" in the police force after finding out about a tweet featuring PCC David Munro taking part in the presentation of the Bibles.

"PCC David Munro was yesterday presented with one of a 1,000 bibles now available to Surrey Police officers and staff. Thanks to the force's Christian Police Association and The Gideons," the tweet read.

In a letter to the commissioner, NSS Chief Executive Stephen Evans criticized the distribution of Bibles and cautioned against allowing the police force to be used in religious activities.

"Distributing badged bibles and brandishing them in publicity shots gives a strong impression of religious favouritism," Evans stated.

"We fully appreciate that good policing will inevitably involve working in partnership with local people, including faith and belief communities. But in doing so police forces must maintain professionalism and a secular ethos and be careful not to allow themselves to be used in this way for proselytising," he added.

Evans further noted that a similar Bible distribution program was turned down by Scottish forces six years ago.

In response, a PCC spokesman noted that Munro approves the efforts of the police force to provide support to officers of all beliefs and faiths, even those who are not religious.

He noted that the Surrey Police has about 20 volunteer Chaplains representing different faiths, including Christians, Muslims, Jews and Humanists.

The spokesman further explained that the PCC had worked with the Surrey Christian Police Association (CPA), the multi-faith Chaplaincy and Surrey Police Diversity Team on April 24 to meet with representatives of Gideons International.

The Bibles brought by Gideons representatives were reportedly presented to the CPA and were made available to interested staff.

The PCC spokesman noted that the Gideons visit is just one of several meetings that the Commissioner had attended.

Last year, the Commissioner had taken part in more than "150 different meetings, events or visits with organisations, charities and individuals such as youth groups, residents associations, minority groups and faith leaders," the PCC spokesman said, according to getSurrey.

A spokesman for the Surrey Police explained that the Multi-faith Chaplaincy program was based on recommendations made in a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services.

The Surrey Police has partnered with the Diocese of Guildford to set up the multi-faith chaplaincy business plan, in which volunteer chaplains from different faiths and beliefs will offer services to police officers and other staff members, according to the police spokesman.