Thursday, December 17, 2009
Interesting Things Are Happening in Boring Old Ontario- Part 1
So, I found an interesting article in Canadian Christianity today. Seems that a Christian organization in Ontario decided to fire a gay employee for being a homosexual. And, to make it worse, they had a code of conduct established within their employment standards that prohibited all employees for being various things- adulterers, gay, etc. So, this is the Christian spin on it. It is exactly what I expected it to be. It is not about being gay, blah blah blah. Anyways, Part 2 of this posting has the actual court finding on it, so you can see the actual truth in the issue. Turns out this woman was very Christian herself. Interesting stuff, here is the article.
“Religious Orientation” before the Ontario Courts
This case has nothing to do with sexual orientation, but rather the ability of a recognized religious community to define its own beliefs, practices and standards of membership.
by Don Hutchinson
landmark religious freedom case arrived before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Tuesday, December 15. The court is sitting as the Divisional Court, which is a panel of three Ontario Superior Court judges (as distinct from Ontario Court of Appeal judges) sitting in review of the decision of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in Heintz v. Christian Horizons.
The appeal features the main parties – Connie Heintz, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Christian Horizons – along with a bevy of interveners – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops and Egale Canada Inc. (formerly E.G.A.L.E., Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere).
Aside from the fact that the complainant in this case has expressed same gender attraction, the case has nothing to do with sexual orientation. The situation Ms. Heintz found herself in would have occurred if she had been involved in a heterosexual relationship outside of marriage, substance or resident abuse, or any other potential violations of the Christian Horizons community’s Lifestyle Policy. This case is about “religious orientation.”
Christian Horizons is an Evangelical Christian ministry serving people with exceptional needs. Originally established as the Ontario Christian Association for Exceptional Children in 1965, Christian Horizons has been successfully providing a Christian home environment as the foundation for an excellent quality of life for many of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens. Christian Horizons’ residential care focuses on the spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and social interaction needs of each person entrusted into their care. The success and quality of life established by this form of care became a driving force behind the Province of Ontario transitioning from institutional care of the developmentally disabled to the contemporary residential care model.
Christian Horizons was established, and expanded at government request, as a religious community. The staff is composed of individuals who have come together with a common belief and agreement on common expression of that belief as the unique foundation for ministry to their residents. Each resident is respected for his or her “intrinsic value as loved by God and bearing His image.”
At all times, Christian Horizons has identified itself as and remained a distinct and identifiable religious community, a fact that was affirmed by the OHRT in its decision.
The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has recognized the right to religious freedom of a religious community as recently as this year’s decision in Alberta v Hutterian Brethren. In that decision the court affirmed the application of two key cases to the concept of collective religious freedom. In Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem the SCC decided that an individual had a legitimate right to practices that have a nexus with his or her religious beliefs. In Trinity Western University v B.C. College of Teachers the SCC decided a religious community (university) could require its students to sign agreement with a statement of faith and a code of conduct. In short, the religious community defines what it believes and how those beliefs translate into practice.
In another case concerning the Hutterian Brethren, Hofer v Hutterian Brethren, the SCC decided in 1970 that an individual is free to subscribe to the beliefs and practices of a religious community in acceptance of the “normative foundation” of that community. The individual could also be expelled from the community if no longer in agreement with that normative foundation.
In Connie Heintz’s situation, she found herself out of compliance with the normative foundation of her chosen religious community of over 2500 people, serving over 1400 residents. Ms. Heintz had recognized and accepted the normative foundation when she signed the Statement of Faith and the Lifestyle Policy of that community five years before. Connie Heintz resigned from her employment with Christian Horizons and subsequently filed a Human Rights complaint. The Ontario Human Rights Commission took up the cause of that complaint because of Ms. Heintz’ stated sexual orientation. The OHRT sided with the issue of sexual orientation, perhaps even moreso than any support offered to Ms. Heintz, over and above the religious freedom of the established self-identifying religious community Christian Horizons.
The Divisional Court will be asked to assess whether there is a hierarchy of rights with sexual orientation superseding the religious freedom of a community united in non-discriminatory service to people with exceptional needs, as the OHRT found, or whether a religious community continues to have the right to define membership as stated by the SCC prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Hofer case.
No one disagrees with Connie Heintz’s right to define her beliefs and practices in regard to her sexual orientation. Christian Horizons, by law and our constitution, has the equal right to define its beliefs and practices in regard to the organization’s religious orientation.
What this case comes down to has nothing to do with sexual orientation, but rather the ability of a recognized religious community, that’s doing good, not harm, to define its own beliefs, practices and standards of membership.
The above article may be republished with permission in print publications. For more information contact Gail Reid: email@example.com.
Don Hutchinson is Vice-President, General Legal Counsel with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Director of the Centre for Faith and Public Life.
Originally posted on Monday, December 14, 2009 at the EFC’s ActivateCFPL blog.
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