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Why the Christian Horizons Case Matters to the Reformed Community

By André Schutten, Hon. B.A., LL.B.

Note: Four sample letters (for BC, AB, MB, and ON) as well as four custom-made petitions are available below.

(www.ARPACanada.ca) Can you imagine the government telling your church that you must employ a gay organist? What would you say if your church administrator converted to Islam, but wanted to retain her job? How would you react when the state told your congregation that you could not fire her? Would you stand up and fight when a Human Rights Tribunal told you that you must keep your church janitor employed even though it became common knowledge that he frequented strip clubs? Or do you think this would never happen?

Well, such scenarios are no longer beyond the scope of reality. A Human Rights case was recently decided against a Christian organization with a similar fact scenario, and such decisions will continue unless all Christians wake up and finally stand up for themselves.

THE CHRISTIAN HORIZONS CASE

Let me tell you about a case from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decided in 2008 and appealed in 2009 with a final decision delivered in 2010. In the fall of 2000 Connie Heintz left her employment with Christian Horizons after five years as a community living support worker providing care and support for individuals with developmental disabilities. Ms. Heintz self-identifies as an evangelical Christian who, shortly before she left Christian Horizons, entered into a same-sex relationship in violation of the morality and lifestyle statement she had agreed to prior to accepting employment with the Christian ministry. The morality statement was developed by approximately 300 staff and included the following:

Staff conduct should comply with Christian Horizons’ policies where stated, endorse the Christian commitment of the membership and be a positive example for the people we serve…. We hold life to be sacred and the family model as endorsed by Jesus as fundamental…Christian Horizons does reject conduct such as:

- extra-marital sexual relationships (adultery)
- pre-marital sexual relationships (fornication)
- reading or viewing pornographic material
- homosexual relationships
- theft, fraud
- physical aggression
- abusive behaviour
- sexual assault/harassment
- lying and deceit
- the use of illicit drugs

as being incompatible with effective Christian counselling ideals, standards and values.

Christian Horizons was found by the Tribunal to have discriminated against Ms. Heintz and it was ordered to comply with the following:

- Pay Ms. Heintz the following amounts:
    - $8,000 in general damages for applying a discriminatory employment policy;
    - $10,000 in general damages for the poisoned work environment;
    - $5,000 in damages for the wilful and reckless infliction of mental anguish;
    - Pre-judgement interest on the above amounts;
    - all wages and benefits Ms. Heintz would have received plus interest;
- Develop and adopt an anti-discrimination and an anti-harassment policy and a human rights training program for all employees and managers;
- Cease and desist from imposing the Lifestyle and Morality Statement as a condition of employment;
- Review its employment policies in consultation with the Commission to ensure that such policies comply with the Code;
- Submit a report to the Tribunal outlining the steps it proposes to take to ensure that its employment policies are in compliance with the Code.

THE APPEAL DECISION

Now admittedly on appeal the Ontario Divisional Court overturned much of the Tribunal’s decision. The court decided that Christian Horizons is an organization of co-religionists associated to engage in common action for the good of others, which benefit to the community would not take place without their association —an association established through a common statement of faith and a lifestyle and morality policy based on those beliefs.

The court also noted that in addition to the statement of faith of this ministry organization, the lifestyle and morality policy (referred to in Supreme Court of Canada decisions as the practices that have a nexus with sincerely held religious beliefs) was also acceptable.

But what the Divisional Court gave with one hand, they took away with the other! The Ontario Divisional Court concluded that the job Ms. Heintz was doing was not impacted by her being involved in a same-sex relationship, contrary to the accepted practices of the faith community with which she was serving and contrary to her own signed acceptance of those practices before she started working there. Accordingly, they struck the “same sex relationship” provision from the lifestyle and morality policy of Christian Horizons, concluding Ms. Heintz had every right to work there.

To paraphrase, the court said, “You have every right to determine what you, as a Christian organization, want to believe, and you have every right to establish a statement of faith and a morality statement. But your morality statement can’t discriminate against same-sex partners because we don’t think that such a relationship impacts her job. Therefore we, the court, will edit your statement of faith and delete item number 4 in your rejected conduct.”

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR CHURCHES

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “Christian Horizons was a public organization, helping the public. That’s much different from a church.” It is true that Christian Horizons helps the public, but it is still a private Christian organization. And Christian Horizons falls under the same category as your local church together with all religious organizations in the Human Rights Code.

The Human Rights Code forbids any discrimination in employment. But there is one exception. The exemption for religious organizations states:

The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is not infringed where, a religious… institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by their… creed… employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified if the qualification is a reasonable and bona fide qualification because of the nature of the employment…”

Note well the “if” clause at the end of the exception! This is where our tribunals and courts are getting it all wrong. The Human Rights Tribunal and the Divisional Court both thought that the qualification of being a chaste Christian was not reasonable or bona fide. In other words, the Court stated that, objectively speaking, to limit the employment to Christians who agreed to live by that code of conduct was unreasonable.

So we see the problem, right? Objectively speaking, can a gay organist accompany the singing in church just as well as a confessing Christian? Absolutely! Their homosexual lifestyle does not make them less able to play the organ. Similarly, in an objective sense, an Islamic administrator can type and sort papers and book venues just as well as a confessing Christian can.

“But,” you might object, “Surely a Human Rights Tribunal would not interfere with internal church matters? This case was about a full time job, an employment issue! Most of our liturgical positions are part-time or voluntary. The Tribunal has no right sticking its nose in our business!”

Although I really want to agree with you, I’m afraid that there is evidence the Tribunal has an incredible arrogance about itself: after its mere 40 years of existence, it thinks it knows better than the church with its 5,000+ years of traditions, laws and moral norms on how to deal with internal church conflict. In a case in 2009 the bishop of a Roman Catholic church was hauled before the Tribunal and forced to explain himself for removing a homosexual man from the voluntary position of alter server! The case ended up settling in a closed door mediation session, but the fact that the Tribunal dared to even intervene in the matter is cause for concern indeed.

In order to better illustrate the effect of the Christian Horizons case, consider the following scenarios, within the context of the Tribunal’s decision.  

Christian Overseas Relief Agency – Imagine a Christian organization whose mission is to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas. They are motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to cherish, preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, foster charity and justice and embody Christian social and moral teaching in:

- Promoting human development by responding to major emergencies, fighting disease and poverty, and nurturing peaceful and just societies; and in
- Serving the Christian community at home as they live their faith in solidarity with their brothers and sisters around the world.

As part of the universal call of Christianity, this agency works with local, national and international Christian institutions to assist people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality.

An atheist applies for a job with the Christian Relief Agency and is turned down because of his religious faith (or lack thereof). He brings a discrimination complaint to the Tribunal and the Christian organization is given a choice: it may compromise its faith and its Christian identity and allow the atheist to work there, or it can close its doors. Why? In light of the Christian Horizons decision, despite having a statement of faith, the tribunal fails to see the objective necessity of being a true Christian in order to satisfactorily complete the day to day tasks of this agency.

Local Urban Mission – Imagine a mission is set up in the downtown core of an Ontario city. It seeks to assist the impoverished who are living on the streets, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation by providing drug treatment counselling and shelter free of charge, as well as providing free meals every day. This mission is generously funded by the local church communities in the city. It was founded on the Biblical principles of providing relief to the poor. Central to the mission’s identity is the requirement for staff to sign and live according to a doctrinal statement and a lifestyle code of conduct which includes living a sexually chaste life.

One of the mission’s full-time employees admits to purchasing and viewing pornography at the local corner-store after work contrary to a teaching of Jesus Christ, and after refusing Christian censure, is fired for it. He brings a discrimination complaint to the Tribunal and the Christian mission is given a choice: it may compromise its faith and its Christian identity and allow the fornicator to work there, or it can close its doors. Why? In light of the Christian Horizons decision, despite having a statement of faith, the tribunal fails to see the objective necessity of being a true Christian in order to satisfactorily complete the work of this mission.

Was the Tribunal and the Divisional Court wrong? Yes. They misinterpreted the legislation and totally ignored the purpose of the legislative exception for religious organizations. There are many religious organizations and communities which self-define and maintain a distinctive Christian character and ethos. In accommodating the freedom of religious organizations to only hire others who share the same religious convictions, the provincial Human Rights Codes are supposed to be interpreted as only enabling these religious organizations to do what most other mission-driven organizations do: to choose employees who are the most capable and the most dedicated to the unique cause of the organization.

Sadly the Divisional Court decision was not appealed. It was a compromise in the worst way, giving both sides to the argument a little bit of what they wanted so that each felt they won something. The result is that this area of the law is now more muddled than ever, and this case has now set a terrible precedent.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

There are two things that should happen. First, to better protect our churches, the leadership of each congregation would do well to adopt solid policy statements on employment, on sexuality, and on internal dispute mechanisms. Such policies, when properly drafted can provide some protection from similar complaints. That being said, as is obvious from the Christian Horizons case, this is not a total protection. These policies in the end may only be weighed as evidence by a Tribunal. If a congregation were to enforce their policies inconsistently, or if their policies were not authoritatively based on confessional standards and the scriptures, then a Tribunal may be inclined to throw out the policy all together.

The second thing we can do as free citizens in a democratic country (a gift from God that is all to often taken for granted!) is challenge this particular law itself. The best process for that now is not through the courts, but through the people. We can’t turn to our lawyers to challenge this decision since the case was not appealed. The better way toward change is to petition for the amendment (or removal!) of the Human Rights Codes. And that is done by contacting your local Member of Parliament and Member of Provincial Parliament or Legislative Assembly and encouraging them to do so. Contact information is available at www.ARPACanada.ca.

Each province has a different version of this religious exception so a different approach is needed for each province. In this case, the Ontario law should be changed so that the exception is more readily accessible for religious organizations. The exception currently reads:

"The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is not infringed where, a religious… institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by their… creed… employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified if the qualification is a reasonable and bona fide qualification because of the nature of the employment…”

At the very least, that last underlined phrase must go. Religious organizations must be allowed to hire only people who agree with all parts of that organization’s statement of faith. The way the Human Rights Code is now being interpreted, it is up to some tribunal (who may be atheist, gay, or otherwise) to determine whether or not certain employment requirements are reasonable qualifications. The government has no right to decide whether or not these are reasonable employment requirements. That should be left to each local religious organization.

A sample petition (for BC, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario) to have the Human Rights Code amended is also available on the ARPA website (see below) as well as a sample letter for church members to mail to their local MP and MLA/MPP. The aim is to properly protect religious institutions. This is something that our churches can support wholeheartedly without fear of loosing their charitable tax status. This type of political involvement is non-partisan and this particular issue is a legitimate concern for religious organizations. Get your congregation and community involved, contact your representative and make it happen!


Petitions

BC Petition for HR Code Reform
Alberta Petition for HR Code Reform
Manitoba Petition for HR Code Reform
Ontario Petition for HR Code Reform

Sample Letters (BC, AB, MB, and ON)

Sample letter to be sent to your British Columbia MLA – please feel free to personalize

Dear Mr./Mrs.

I am very grateful for the freedoms that we have in this country and in this province and for your role in keeping our land free. But I am concerned with the lack of action by our leaders in response to the infringement of fundamental freedoms by means of the provincial and federal Human Rights Commissions. Some of the original intentions for a human rights commission may have been good, but these quasi-judicial bodies have taken on a completely different role since their institution and have become tools in the hands of some to impose their values on so many others.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone should enjoy certain fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; and freedom of free assembly and association. These freedoms are fundamental to a truly free and democratic society.

A recent Human Rights case has demonstrated once again that human rights legislation is out of step with the Charter. A religious not-for-profit organization had its statement of faith and morality code amended by a Tribunal. This is wrong! It offends the basic concept of separation of church and state. It is a blatant interference of the government in the religious affairs, the beliefs, and the free expression of its citizens. It violates the pure practice of religion and the right of religious individuals to freely associate with those they choose. Although this case originated in Ontario, the threat of a similar case being decided here in British Columbia is very real.

There is a simple remedy. Section 13(4) of the Human Rights Code is meant to protect the fundamental freedoms listed above. However, in its current form it does too little to protect religious organizations from the imposition of secular values and morals; it insufficiently protects the freedom of association of religious individuals; it is lacking in its protection of the freedom of religion and conscience for religious communities.

Therefore, I am calling upon you, my elected representative, and upon the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia to stand up for my freedoms and the freedoms of the many members of religious communities across the province by replacing section 13(4) of the Human Rights Act with the following: “Subsection (1) and (2) do not apply with respect to a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified.” This amendment would provide adequate protection for religious organizations in balance with the equality in employment interests of the state.

I realize that taking actions against a body that goes under the name of human rights may not be the most politically correct thing to do. But the inaction of politicians is coming at the cost of our basic freedoms. Please see this not as an attempt to limit rights, but rather as a proper amendment to protect rights. Please stand up for our fundamental freedoms! Some reform of the commission's powers would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]

 

Sample letter to be sent to your Alberta MLA – please feel free to personalize

Dear Mr./Mrs.

I am very grateful for the freedoms that we have in this country and in this province and for your role in keeping our land free. But I am concerned with the lack of action by our leaders in response to the infringement of fundamental freedoms by means of the provincial and federal Human Rights Commissions. Some of the original intentions for a human rights commission may have been good, but these quasi-judicial bodies have taken on a completely different role since their institution and have become tools in the hands of some to impose their values on so many others.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone should enjoy certain fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; and freedom of free assembly and association. These freedoms are fundamental to a truly free and democratic society.

A recent Human Rights case has demonstrated once again that human rights legislation is out of step with the Charter. A religious not-for-profit organization had its statement of faith and morality code amended by a Tribunal. This is wrong! It offends the basic concept of separation of church and state. It is a blatant interference of the government in the religious affairs, the beliefs, and the free expression of its citizens. It violates the pure practice of religion and the right of religious individuals to freely associate with those they choose. Although this case originated in Ontario, the threat of a similar case being decided here in Alberta is very real.

There is a simple remedy. Section 7.(1)(c) of the Alberta Human Rights Act is meant to protect the fundamental freedoms listed above. However, in its current form it does too little to protect religious organizations from the imposition of secular values and morals; it insufficiently protects the freedom of association of religious individuals; it is lacking in its protection of the freedom of religion and conscience for religious communities.

Therefore, I am calling upon you, my elected representative, and upon the Legislative Assembly of Alberta to stand up for my freedoms and the freedoms of the many members of religious communities across the province by replacing section 7(1)(c) of the Human Rights Act with the following: “Subsection (1) does not apply with respect to a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified.” This amendment would provide adequate protection for religious organizations in balance with the equality in employment interests of the state.

I realize that taking actions against a body that goes under the name of human rights may not be the most politically correct thing to do. But the inaction of politicians is coming at the cost of our basic freedoms. Please see this not as an attempt to limit rights, but rather as a proper amendment to protect rights. Please stand up for our fundamental freedoms! Some reform of the commission's powers would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]

Sample letter to be sent to your Manitoba MLA – please feel free to personalize

Dear Mr./Mrs.

I am very grateful for the freedoms that we have in this country and in this province and for your role in keeping our land free. But I am concerned with the lack of action by our leaders in response to the infringement of fundamental freedoms by means of the provincial and federal Human Rights Commissions. Some of the original intentions for a human rights commission may have been good, but these quasi-judicial bodies have taken on a completely different role since their institution and have become tools in the hands of some to impose their values on so many others.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone should enjoy certain fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; and freedom of free assembly and association. These freedoms are fundamental to a truly free and democratic society.

A recent Human Rights case has demonstrated once again that human rights legislation is out of step with the Charter. A religious not-for-profit organization had its statement of faith and morality code amended by a Tribunal. This is wrong! It offends the basic concept of separation of church and state. It is a blatant interference of the government in the religious affairs, the beliefs, and the free expression of its citizens. It violates the pure practice of religion and the right of religious individuals to freely associate with those they choose. Although this case originated in Ontario, the threat of a similar case being decided here in Manitoba is very real.

There is a simple remedy. Section 14(1) of the Human Rights Code is meant to protect the fundamental freedoms listed above. However, in its current form it does too little to protect religious organizations from the imposition of secular values and morals; it insufficiently protects the freedom of association of religious individuals; it is lacking in its protection of the freedom of religion and conscience for religious communities.

Therefore, I am calling upon you, my elected representative, and upon the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba to stand up for my freedoms and the freedoms of the many members of religious communities across the province by amending section 14(1) of the Human Rights Code in this way: “No person shall discriminate with respect to any aspect of an employment or occupation, unless the employer is a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified.” This amendment would provide adequate protection for religious organizations in balance with the equality in employment interests of the state.

I realize that taking actions against a body that goes under the name of human rights may not be the most politically correct thing to do. But the inaction of politicians is coming at the cost of our basic freedoms. Please see this not as an attempt to limit rights, but rather as a proper amendment to protect rights. Please stand up for our fundamental freedoms! Some reform of the commission's powers would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]

 

Sample letter to be sent to your Ontario MPP – please feel free to personalize

Dear Mr./Mrs.

I am very grateful for the freedoms that we have in this country and for your role in keeping our land free. But I am concerned with the lack of action by our leaders in response to the infringement of fundamental freedoms by means of the provincial and federal Human Rights Commissions. Some of the original intentions for a human rights commission may have been good, but these quasi-judicial bodies have taken on a completely different role since their institution and have become tools in the hands of some to impose their values on so many others.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone should enjoy certain fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; and freedom of free assembly and association. These freedoms are fundamental to a truly free and democratic society.

A recent case decided by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal demonstrates that the Ontario Human Rights Code is out of step with the Charter. A religious not-for-profit organization (Christian Horizons) had its statement of faith and morality code amended by our Tribunal, a government bureaucrat. This is wrong! It offends the basic concept of separation of church and state. It is a blatant interference of the government in the religious affairs, the beliefs, and the free expression of its citizens. It violates the pure practice of religion and the right of religious individuals to freely associate with those they choose.

There is a simple remedy. Section 24(1)(a) of the Ontario Human Rights Code is meant to protect the fundamental freedoms mentioned above. However, in its current form and in the way it was interpreted by the Tribunal, it fails to protect religious organizations from the imposition of secular values and morals; it insufficiently protects the freedom of association of religious individuals; it is lacking in its protection of the freedom of religion and conscience of religious communities.

Therefore, I am calling upon you, my elected representative, and upon the Legislature of Ontario to stand up for my freedoms and the freedoms of the many members of religious communities across this province by amending the Human Rights Code and removing the phrase, “if the qualification is a reasonable and bona fide qualification because of the nature of the employment” from section 24(1)(a). This would provide adequate protection for religious organizations in balance with the equality in employment interests of the state.

I realize that taking actions against a body that goes under the name of human rights may not be the most politically correct thing to do. But the inaction of politicians is coming at the cost of our basic freedoms. Please see this not as an attempt to limit rights, but rather as a proper amendment to protect rights. Please stand up for our fundamental freedoms! Some reform of the commission's powers would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]

 

 

By André Schutten, Hon. B.A., LL.B.

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Sites Worth Checking Out

What follows are ARPA staff picks (in no particular order) of favourite, helpful, and intersting sites:

www.reformedprolifer.com

http://activatecfpl.theefc.ca

www.prowomanprolife.org

www.realwomenofcanada.ca

www.imfcanada.org

www.ligonier.org (videos on church and state)

 

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About ARPA Canada

The mission of ARPA Canada is to educate, equip, and encourage Reformed Christians to political action and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities (learn more).

ARPA Canada is a non-profit organization, supported entirely by individuals like yourself who want to see this work continue. We do not receive financial assistance from churches, charities, government, tax credits, or foundations. Learn more about how you can help us carry out our mission.

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