Punished for Being Too Tolerant?: The Latest Human Rights Commission Head-Scratcher
Commentary by John Jalsevac
April 28, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Canada’s Human Rights Commissions have been scraping the bottom of the barrel for some time now in their head-over-heels eagerness to produce unfavorable verdicts against all things Christian and conservative. In all of the barrel scraping, however, they’ve generally stuck to their trusty tactic of applying the legal fig-leaf of "intolerance" - pointing out just how intolerably intolerant, prejudiced, hateful, discriminatory, close-minded and bigoted Christians and conservatives are, and why, therefore, they are a menace, must be punished and, ultimately, silenced.
The most recent decision to come out of the Ontario Human Rights Commission is unique, however, in that the tribunal ditches precedent and instead gushes about just how wonderfully non-discriminatory and loving Christian Horizons (the defendent in the case) is. And then, after pages of that, the tribunal goes ahead and slaps the Christian charity with a guilty verdict anyway.
But first, some background.
On April 15 the one man human rights tribunal of Michael Gottheil delivered a guilty verdict against Christian Horizons (CH), Ontario’s largest community living service provider which provides care to some 1400 severely disabled individuals.
Ever since 1992 CH has required its employees to sign on to a "Lifestyle Morality Statement" (LMS), that forbids employees from engaging in certain behaviors that contravene fundamental Christian moral precepts, including such things as: lying, stealing, premarital sex, adultery, illegal drug use, and, of course, homosexuality. That is, CH didn’t want any of its employees contradicting the organization’s principles or reason for being - it is after all a Christian organization.
In 2001 a human rights complaint was filed against CH by former employee, Connie Heintz. When Heintz was hired by CH in the mid 90s she was informed that her continued employment was dependent upon her continued adherence to the requirements of the LMS, which she willingly signed. Heintz, however, later came to believe that she was homosexual and publicly entered into a same-sex relationship. Soon thereafter she resigned from her position after being told that she was violating the terms of her contract.
Gottheil, however, the all-powerful Human Rights Tribunal adjudicator, ultimately decided that CH had discriminated against Heintz, and ordered CH to pay her $23,000, plus two years wages and benefits. The tribunal also ordered CH to bring its policies into compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code, meaning that it must scrap its Lifestyle Morality Statement and comply with anti-discrimination employment legislation that forbids employers, whether Christian or not, from discriminating on the basis of "sexual orientation". And, finally, the tribunal ordered CH employees to undergo state indoctrination in the form of so-called "human rights training."
In effect, Christian Horizons was told to ditch the whole "Christian" bit and asked to join the club of Canada’s secularist utopia. CH has not yet issued an official response to the tribunal’s decision, but it will certainly be interesting to see what one of Canada’s most solidly, traditionally Christian charities will make of the offer to deny its most fundamental identity and raison d’etre because some government yahoo sitting in an office somewhere in Toronto told them to.
In any case, the Human Rights Tribunal’s eerily schizophrenic decision makes for very interesting reading.
Throughout the 57-page decision Adjudicator Gottheil goes way out of his way to prove that CH does not and never has discriminated in any way, shape, or form when it comes to providing care for those in need. Christian Horizons, he argues, citing page after page of anecdotal and statistical evidence, seeks only to care for the "vulnerable, the marginalized and the needy" without any thought for their race, age, religious beliefs, or anything else, including, presumably, sexual orientation.
He writes, "Christian Horizons accepts all persons into its programs regardless of cultural background or religious belief." And again: "In order to receive service from Christian Horizons, residents and their families are not required to be members of the organization or to adopt or sign the Doctrinal Statement or the Lifestyle Morality Statement." And once again: "Christian Horizons’ witnesses were clear that it does not attempt to proselytize or engage in the religious indoctrination of residents."
Time and again, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, we are assured by Gottheil that CH dispenses its services freely, liberally, to everyone and anyone who is in need, without exception. What is more, Gottheil cites the testimonies of both Christian and non-Christian families who have placed a family member in the care of Christian Horizons. "All," writes Gottheil in a moving testimony to the success of CH in providing care without ideological consideration, "said that Christian Horizons provided excellent care for their children and siblings."
At which point one wonders where, exactly, Gottheil is going with all of this. If you didn’t already know that he had somehow conjured up a guilty verdict, you’d think that CH was well on its way to being acquitted and having additional government funding heaped on them.
But then, in a twist of logic that leaves one dizzy and not a little flustered, Gottheil stands the whole thing on its head and goes on to prove that CH’s very tolerance is the reason why it must be punished and cannot be permitted to continue existing as a Christian organization. Because CH has been so successful as a Christian charity, it can no longer continue to be a Christian charity, he says. Because CH has not discriminated, it must be found guilty of discrimination. Because CH’s Christian employees have been so thoroughly Christian in the selflessness of their charity, CH must cease hiring only Christian employees.
All of this comes about because of Gottheil’s interpretation of section 24(1)(a) of the Human Rights Code, "which permits certain organizations to restrict hiring or give preference in employment to persons identified by one of the proscribed grounds of discrimination." According to Gottheil’s interpretation of the Code, section 24(1)(a) only permits those organizations that exist to offer services to the exact same class of people that they employ to be exempt from non-discrimination employment legislation. That is, if the charity hires only Christians, it can only offer its services to Christians.
What this means for Christian Horizons, writes Gottheil, is that because the charity provides for whoever is in need, and does not exclude non-Christians, CH cannot claim exemption from non-discrimination legislation. If only CH discriminated against non-Christians, and offered its services solely to Christians, then perhaps it would have a leg to stand on. If only Christian Horizons took care of a particular segment of Ontario’s citizens, instead of the whole citizenry without exception, then perhaps they would be eligible for government funding. But as it is, Christian Horizons is just too non-discriminatory, too humanitarian, too loving…that is, too darn Christian to fall under Section 24(1)(a) exemption. At least, that’s how Gottheil’s reasoning goes. I wish it weren’t true, but sadly enough, it is. As they say, "Conviction at all costs!" Even, apparently, if it makes you look stupid.
In the end one wonders if perhaps the Human Rights Commission is simply jealous of Christian Horizons, of its loving humanitarianism, of its single-minded devotion to helping the entire human race and to offering hope to the most needy. In the world of the Commissions, dogmatic Christians are by definition the bigots. And so, if it is found that such a group of Christians is in fact helping thousands, then they must simply be brought into the fold of Canadian secularism. Their Christian identity must be taken away, and their Christian ministry must be reduced to the much more banal, impersonal, secular "social work" - even though their employees’ shared Christian faith is the very soul of the ministry.
What makes all of this even more laughable is that Connie Heintz wasn’t even fired. She resigned. And, what is more, Heintz herself testified that her former boss at CH actually tried to help her find another job by providing her with listings of vacancies with other charities - hardly the actions of someone who is "homophobic."
As Don Hutchinson writes in the National Post: "Imagine that Mother Theresa and her Missionaries of Charity had been told that their ministry in the streets of Calcutta was, in essence, not ministry but ‘social work.’ In order for the sisters to continue in their work, they would no longer be permitted to require that staff members share their beliefs and ministry commitment.
"As bizarre as this may sound," he concludes, "this is essentially what a single adjudicator acting as an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal recently decided in the case of Heintz v Christian Horizons."
See Christian Horizon’s website
See related LifeSiteNews stories:
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