OTTAWA – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) will appear before the Superior Court of Ontario Tuesday, December 15 through Thursday, December 17 in a landmark religious freedom case. The court will be hearing the appeal of the Heintz v. Christian Horizons decision issued by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT). If upheld, the ruling of the OHRT will have a significant impact on the operations and identities of churches, Christian public service organizations, denominations and higher education institutions across the country. The EFC will present arguments affirming the rights to freedom of association and religion for people to voluntarily assemble for ministry purposes based on their mutually shared religious convictions.
Christian Horizons, a faith-based ministry, employs over 2500 people to provide housing, care and support to over 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals, and has done so for more than 40 years. The government of Ontario has repeatedly recognized the ministry’s incredible success in working with its residents. The methods employed by Christian Horizons were instrumental in moving the province-wide model of care from institutional care in favour of residential care. As a result there was a significant expansion of this faith-based organization to meet the needs of some of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens.
This Christian ministry, which requires its employees to sign a Statement of Faith and Lifestyle Policy, was the subject of a human rights complaint when a staff member resigned after she felt she could no longer live according to the commitment she made when she signed the policy. In its decision, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Christian Horizon’s efforts were not the ministry of a religious community but social work and that it, as well as other faith-based bodies serving public needs on a non-discriminatory basis, could no longer require that employees share their religious beliefs and resulting service commitment.
“This decision was shocking,” states Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for the EFC. “It’s inconsistent with long-standing Supreme Court jurisprudence that clearly sets out that people of faith can choose to gather for ministry works and service – this has been confirmed as an extension of their right to freedom of religion.”
Unlike the United States, Canada has no constitutional concept of the separation of church and state. EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson explained that, “Canada has a long history of accepting religious differences and allowing them to exist peacefully. Federal and Provincial governments have long facilitated funding for activities conducted by religious organizations for the purpose of accomplishing public goals including education, health services and, in this instance, the care of special-needs Canadians. There are a variety of public service organizations, both religious and non-religious, that are selective in their employment to ensure a common motivation and to maximize the use of charitable and public dollars.”
Hutchinson, who directs the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life, added that even the tribunal admitted that its decision went to the very identity of this valued community partner. “If this decision stands, religious ministries, who often accept the responsibility of lovingly serving our country's most vulnerable individuals, will have the very foundation for their public service stripped from beneath them, forcing them to re-evaluate their ability to provide those services. Christian service is an integral extension and expression of the Evangelical Christian faith. To attempt to sever that link misunderstands the very ethos and motivation that undergirds the Christian care and compassion for others. What this case comes down to is the ability of a recognized religious community, that’s doing good not harm, to define its own beliefs, practices and standards of membership.”
The EFC’s written factum for Heintz v. Christian Horizons may be viewed at http://files.efc-canada.net/si/Religious%20Freedom%20in%20Canada/EFC/EFCFactum-ChrHorizons23Jan09.pdf. -
For more information or an interview contact:
905-479-5885, ext. 227
THE EVANGELICAL FELLOWSHIP OF CANADA
Together for influence, impact and identityThe Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians, gathered together for influence, impact and identity in ministry and public witness. Since 1964 the EFC has provided a national forum for Evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society.
In addition to 39 evangelical denominations, the EFC affiliates include ministry organizations, educational institutions and individual congregations, who uphold a common statement of faith. The EFC is an active participant in the World Evangelical Alliance.