The EFC: Good News from the Supreme Court of Canada

General August 7, 2009

August 7, 2009

Dear Colleagues,

I want to update you on a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that has significant implications for religious freedom in Canada.

As you know, we intervened along with the Christian Legal Fellowship last fall in a case involving the Hutterian Brethren, because it had the potential of being precedent setting in how courts in Canada treat religious freedom. All religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court, since the Charter was enacted, have concerned the rights of individuals. This case had the potential of having the Court clarify whether there was also a collective dimension to the religious freedom guarantees in the Charter. Does the Charter also protect the rights of religious groups? This issue is critical for churches and other religious organizations.

Good news! We were successful in getting the Supreme Court to affirm that there is a collective dimension to religious freedom. As one judge said, religious freedom under the Charter “incorporates a right to establish and maintain a community of faith.” This affirmation is very important for religious organizations and communities such as denominations, ministry organizations, colleges and universities, and congregations. This is why the EFC felt compelled to intervene in this case.

The Hutterian Brethren lost because 4 of the 7 judges felt that they had other options to overcome the difficulty of not having drivers licences –such as hiring drivers or taking cabs – activities that other people without licences undertake and activities that do not violate the religious beliefs of the Hutterian Brethren.

In the end, all judges of the Supreme Court affirmed that there is a collective dimension to religious freedom guarantees under the Charter. This will be invaluable to us as we appear before the courts in future cases that challenge the ability of churches and religious organizations to self define and maintain a distinctive Christian character and ethos.

This is significant for the Christian Horizons case, scheduled to be heard this December. This acknowledgment of the Supreme Court that there is a collective dimension to religious freedom will help us. Rather than facing the hurdle of trying to convince a lower court that there is a group dimension to religious freedom, we can merely quote the Supreme Court. It provides a much stronger ground on which to base our arguments in our Christian Horizons intervention.

I am thankful for the partnership of the Christian Legal Fellowship and for our legal team headed by Don Hutchinson. We accomplished our goal of obtaining a strong definition for the group dimension of freedom of religion under the Charter.

I am also thankful for your affiliation with the EFC. Together we do have influence.

Please remember to pray for us, that we may have wisdom and grace.


Sincerely, 

Bruce J. Clemenger
President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada