By Thaddeus M. Baklinski and Patrick Craine
TORONTO, May 18, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a landmark ruling on May 14, the Ontario Divisional Court overturned an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT) decision against Christian Horizons, a faith-based ministry that operates more than 180 residential homes for people with developmental disabilities.
The Evangelical Christian ministry, which requires its employees to sign a Statement of Faith and a Lifestyle and Morality Policy, was the subject of a human rights complaint when a staff member resigned after going public as a lesbian.
The complainant, Connie Heintz, had freely signed the morality statement as a condition of employment in 1995, and promised not to engage in “homosexual relationships,” among other un-Christian activities such as “extra-marital sexual relationships (adultery)”, “pre-marital sexual relationships (fornication),” “viewing or reading pornographic material” and “lying.”
Heintz claimed in her human rights complaint that she was forced out of her employment after she publicly admitted to being an active lesbian.
In April 2008, the OHRT ruled against the evangelical social service agency. The OHRT stated that the agency could not insist on faith requirements for moral behavior in its hiring, nor require employees to sign agreements attesting to such requirements because the organization was serving the general public, and not restricting its services to Evangelical Christians. The OHRT also imposed a fine of $23,000, to be paid to the complainant.
As a result of the ruling Christian Horizons dropped its requirement that employees sign the morality statement, but appealed the tribunal ruling to the Divisional Court of the Superior Court of Ontario.
Lawyers for Christian Horizons argued in court that the OHRT ruling was in error because the tribunal failed to understand the fundamental Christian mission of the social service agency, and ruled against them because they don’t restrict their services to Christians and are not involved in Christian indoctrination.
The court heard submissions from Egale Canada, a homosexual “rights” organization, which acted as an intervener for Connie Heintz, as well as from several religious interveners, including the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities.
On Friday the Divisional Court ruled in favor of Christian Horizons' appeal and reversed much of the OHRT's decision.
The judge wrote: “It is clear that Christian Horizons operates its group homes for religious reasons – in order to carry out a Christian mission, imitating the work of Jesus Christ by serving those in need.”
“It would not be doing this work of assisting people with disabilities in a Christian home environment but for the religious calling of those involved,” the judge added.
The court also struck down a Tribunal directive forcing Christian Horizons to review its employment in consultation with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Don Hutchinson, Vice-President and General Legal Counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, called the court's decision a “significant victory for faith-based charities across Canada.”
“While they must clarify certain governing documents and review certain employment policies, they may largely continue to require employee compliance with both statements of faith and lifestyle and morality policies,” he said.
The court's decision “means that Christian charities may continue to serve non co-religionists in society all while maintaining their internal religious ethos and integrity,” Hutchinson added.
In a Monday statement published on NoApologies.ca, Christian Horizon's CEO Ed Sider explains that the organization appealed because the Tribunal decision “would have had the effect of preventing Christian Horizons from continuing to operate as a faith-based organization.”
He thanked Christian Horizon's supporters and affirmed their dedication to Christian ministry. “We are committed to strengthen the spiritual foundation of the ministry. We serve people with developmental disabilities in Ontario because our members, directors and employees have a Christian calling to do so,” he wrote. “Your commitment to this ministry was critical to our appeal and – indeed – will sustain our work into the future.”
See previous LSN coverage:
Ontario Christian Ministry in Court Challenging Human Rights Ruling
Christian Ministry to Disabled Drops its Code of Conduct Under Human Rights Tribunal Pressure
Huge Christian Ministry to Disabled Fined $23,000 For Rejecting Homosexual Employee
Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Ruling Denies Christian Ministry's Right to be Christian