For immediate release from The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
June 9, 2011
OTTAWA – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has provided a written submission to the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The Ministry is proposing guidelines for the conservation and protection of heritage places of worship in Ontario and has invited input from the public.
“The guidelines and the Ontario Heritage Act have the potential to negatively impact the freedom of church groups to use their assets as tools of ministry without interference from government,” states Don Hutchinson, EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel.
“Until 2005, churches could make decisions about the use of their properties based solely on the needs of their congregations and those they served. But the changes to the Ontario Heritage Act have given municipalities the authority to permanently block changes to designated buildings,” continues Hutchinson. “Designated churches have to get permission from their municipal council to modify in any way the parts of the building that are considered ‘culturally significant,’ which can include the seating, windows, altars and other parts of the building used for worship.”
The Ontario Heritage Act is the legislative framework for Ontario’s heritage conservation and protection process. The criteria for deciding whether a site should be designated under the Act are so general that almost any church in Ontario could be said to meet them. To qualify, a property just has to have “direct associations with a theme, event, belief, person, activity, organization or institution that is significant to a community.” And yet, when applied, the Act - and through the Act and municipal councils – may prevent churches from making reasonable, necessary changes to their property, while enforcing congregational responsibility to maintain it.
“Vibrant congregations are being forced to take money away from other vital functions – whether that is supporting the disadvantaged, hosting AA and similar groups or running activities for children and youth (e.g. Scouts and Guides) – in order to meet heritage requirements,” explains Faye Sonier, EFC Legal Counsel. "Many are being prevented from modernizing elements of the buildings to meet with the needs of operating in the contemporary world. Certainly, in the Evangelical Christian community, as well as other Christian expressions, we regard service to others as part of our ‘reasonable worship’.”
The EFC urges the government of Ontario to respect the autonomy of functioning church congregations – the collective expression of religion, entitled to recognition of religious freedom under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – in Ontario. Church denominations and congregations are entitled to the freedom to conduct their religious affairs as they see best, in order to fulfill their high calling to minister to their members and society at large. These are, after all, most frequently the bodies that have established and maintained the buildings in question throughout the buildings’ life.
“If municipal governments are given unfettered authority over property owned by religious groups, there will be provincially sanctioned infringements on their freedom of religion. Such infringement cannot be justified in a free and democratic society,” concludes Sonier.
For more information about this issue or to read the EFC’s written submission please visit http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=7566.
For more information or an interview contact:
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
(613) 233-9868, ext. 325
THE EVANGELICAL FELLOWSHIP OF CANADA
Together for influence, impact and identity
The 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.
View our current initiatives and partnerships. Order a copy of Faith Today, published by the EFC to connect, equip and inform evangelical Christians in Canada. Visit the EFC gathering of the Canadian Christian community online: www.christianity.ca.
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