Threat to Religious Liberty? Canadian Ministry Opens Jobs to Non-Christian Applicants

In a major policy change, one of Canada's largest ministries, Christian Horizons, will no longer force all job applicants to sign a "Statement of Faith" acknowledging the Gospel. The ministry announced, in partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) – a group which successfully sued them for discriminating against a homosexual worker – that they will open jobs to non-Christians.

"I am skeptical that this Evangelical Christian ministry would be making this change without the pressure being placed upon it by the Ontario Human Rights Commission," Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., told The Christian Post in a Wednesday interview. "It's irrational on its face and it is discriminatory in its effect."

Sprigg recounted the story of Connie Heintz, who worked at Christian Horizons until she was pressured to quit after engaging in a homosexual relationship. As a term of her employment, she signed a "Lifestyle and Morality Statement," by which she vowed to abstain from immoral behavior, including pornography, pre-marital, extra-marital, and homosexual activity as a condition of her employment. She later sued the organization.

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In 2008, Michael Gotthiel, the single adjudicator representing the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, ruled against Christian Horizons, ordering the group to pay Heintz $23,000 in fines, along with two years wages and benefits. He also ordered the organization to abandon its Christian principles barring homosexual behavior and required its employees to attend a homosexual-oriented "Human Rights Training Program."

Sprigg found the further step taken last week very concerning. Even after dropping the "Lifestyle and Morality Statement," he admitted that they still required their employees to identify as Christians – now even that has been taken away.

The scholar drew a parallel to cases in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia where Catholic Charities was forced to stop providing adoption services because the organization could not, in good conscience, place children with homosexual couples.

Sprigg defended the freedom of religious organizations, even when funded by the state. The free exercise of religion protected in the First Amendment "should not be constrained or restrained simply because the organization happens to be receiving government funding for a social service that it performs."

"Faith-based organizations have shown themselves to be almost uniquely effective in providing some of these social services," Sprigg argued, "in part because of the faith commitment which underlies their work." If the government forces them to remove the faith commitment, the charities will become less effective, he explained.

The joint statement by OHRC and the ministry disagreed completely. "The Commission and Christian Organizations believe that employing support workers and program managers who hold a variety of views on matters of faith will strengthen its capacity to support people from diverse communities," read the statement last Thursday.

"The new policies and procedures do not change the Vision, Mission, and Values of Christian Horizons or impact the scope of our ministry, but rather strengthen our role as a faith-based organization providing excellent support to people with developmental disabilities and their families in Ontario," wrote Krista O'Brien, the ministry's Manager of Communication Strategies, in a Wednesday statement to CP. She echoed the joint statement in saying that hiring non-Christians will strengthen the organization.

"There's no connection to the Connie Heintz case," OHRC Spokesperson Pascale Demers told CP. She acknowledged that "there are protections under the Human Rights code where an organization can argue, based on the clientele that they serve or the services they provide, that they would have the right to discriminate, if you will, and hire staff that, in this case, would only be evangelical Christians.

She expressed OHRC's pleasure to work with Christian Horizons "to ensure that their employment practices comply with Ontario Human Rights code."

Sprigg did not believe that this was an amicable agreement, but alleged that the OHRC is "strong-arming" the ministry into an untenable position. "It's obviously some sort of negotiated settlement," he said, explaining that any organization must "weigh the cost of compromise against the cost of legal representation, lawsuits, and the risk of being shut down or having to pay a large settlement."

The FRC scholar argued that this case proves the incompatibility between the homosexual movement's agenda and religious freedom. "You cannot succumb to the homosexual movement and the homosexual agenda without forfeiting religious liberty altogether," he said.

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