Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ontario Human Rights Commission Strikes Again

no As reported in today's Persecution and Prayer Alert, in a ruling released late last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission declared that Christian Horizons, an evangelical Christian organization that provides care and residential services to 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals, was wrong to require that its employees sign a lifestyle and morality statement as a condition of employment and ordered that it "cease and desist" from doing so.  The lifestyle and morality statement prohibits behaviours Christian Horizons believes are prohibited for Christians including "homosexual relationships," "extra-marital sexual relationships (adultery)," "pre-marital sexual relationships (fornication)," "viewing or reading pornographic material," "endorsing" alcohol or cigarettes and "lying."  This kind of code is quite common among faith-based organizations.  The Voice of the Martyrs has one that we require our staff to sign annually.

Boasting that it's ruling "has a significant impact for faith-based organizations that provide services to the general public," the OHRC ordered Christian Horizons to pay Connie Heintz (39) two years' wages and benefits, plus $23,000 in compensatory damages because from a complaint brought by Ms Heintz claiming that she was forced from the organization when she made it public that she was a lesbian. Heintz (39) willingly signed Christian Horizons' "lifestyle and morality" employee code when she joined the organization in 1995. By all reports, she agreed with it fully at the time.  In 2000, however, she made it known to the organization that she was a lesbian, Heintz was offered counselling in her evangelical tradition to assist her in determining whether she could return to compliance with the basic requirements of her employment. Instead, she resigned, filing a human rights complaint four months later.

As we noted, contrary to what many are claiming, the OHRC ruled against Christian Horizons not on the grounds that the agency receives virtually all of its funding from the Ontario government (more than 75 million dollars annually) and, as such, is subject to the provincial human rights code. Rather, the ruling was because Christian Horizons' primary mission is to serve the public need for group homes for people with developmental difficulties.  In a press release by the OHRC, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall commented, "This decision is important because it sets out that when faith-based and other organizations move beyond serving the interests of their particular community to serving the general public, the rights of others, including employees, must be respected." The Tribunal also ruled that Christian Horizons must develop anti-discrimination policies, provide training to all employees and managers, and review all of its employment policies to ensure that they are in compliance with Ontario's Human Rights Code (click here to review the entire ruling).

As I read the ruling, it seems to me that had Christian Horizons limited its work to serving Christians that it likely would have won its case, despite receiving public funding from the government.  But because Christian Horizons serves others outside of their faith community, they are now subject to the same restrictions as a secular organization.  Don Hutchinson, General Legal Counsel and Director of Law and Public Policy with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada rightfully asks in a National Post blog, "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."  This is, in effect, the consequence of this ruling for Christian Horizons. They have been stripped of their right to operate as a faith-based organization simply because they chose not to limit the scope of their work to Christians. 

Does anyone else find this outrageous?


Anonymous said...


I'm a Christian, an evangelical and I'm take a different viewpoint than you.

Christian Horizons are not being asked to stop operating as a 'faith based organization'.

They became a social services agenda run by people of faith that takes in 100 percent of it's funding by the government. They were involved in a complaint in 1992 btw.

To assume other organizations serving the disabled are not ethical is the implication.

To assume this Christian woman cannot perform her duties effectively is not ethical and is the implication.

To harass her was not ethical.
To suggest reparative therapy may have been a sincerely held belief by the organization but it was not

I do agree with you on this, to anyone who reads your post - read the ruling.


Glenn Penner said...

I am sorry, but the Tribunal made it very clear that provincial funding was not an issue in the ruling. To insist that the organization cease from requiring its staff to sign an ethics statement is tantamount to opening the door to anyone as an employee, even those those beliefs and lifestyle are directly opposed to the Christian fiath

Anonymous said...

Hi BD.

I'm an Evangelical and a lawyer.

The 1992 decision in Parks v Christian Horizons was clear. The decision against CH at that time was because they simply required staff to adhere to lifestyle standards based on biblical principles. The adjudicator found the concept of "biblical principles" to be open to interpretation and set out a standard for a code of conduct that would be acceptable.

CH enterred into a process with staff to develop a code of conduct that complied with the Parks ruling. That code of conduct was at issue in this case. In his decision, the adjudicator (check the last page of the addendum) notes, somewhat giving away the rationale for ignoring a series of legal precedents, he had "serious doubts about the correctness of the Parks decision." He then armed the OHRC to go after faith-based groups who have a focus of ministering to the needy in our society on a non-discriminatory basis, many of whom have relied on Parks and serve the poor, homeless and others with a faith based vigour comparable to that of CH staff.

There were some things done wrong in this situation (according to the written reasons in the decision, which may or may not be an accurate portrayal of the facts) but the most egregious was the decision itself.


Anonymous said...


I did see what was written in the current decision re: the Parks case - ""serious doubts about the correctness of the Parks decision."

You are correct.

It's okay to hassle a woman who comes to understand she is gay, it's dubious to fire women who committed adultery? The Christian Horizons Lifestyle and Morality Statement is at least consistent.

The two let go in 1992 for conduct unbecoming have most probably not been the only ones.
Good on them for taking this their situation to tribunal and helping set legal decisions.

I'm not a lawyer, I appreciate you entering the discussion.:^)

How many HRC cases involving discriminatory practices by parachurch organizations has the Ontario HRC heard? Balanced against how many operate in this one province?

I question whether or not this is going to 'arm' HRC's to "go after"
faith based groups.

We poor persecuted Canadian Christians, I have little use for militant language around an employment case.

Christian Horizons has 2500 employees, who have to meet professional creds and standards.

Is Christian Horizons questioning their requirement employees meet professional medical government standards. That would be laughable, so why is requirement to meet employment standards about Christian persecution and disobeying God's laws?

"Christian Horizons lists “a commitment to personal conduct and lifestyle consistent with the values and principles of Christian Horizons” as the top criteria for selecting staff. After that comes education, experience and a clean criminal record."

Glenn, you are correct, the 100% provincial funding was not part of the decision and I stand corrected. They have 1400 clients, 2500 employees and receive 75 million dollars from taxpayers.

That has nothing to do with this ruling.

Nor is Christian Horizons a church.
It is a business, along with the other 180 business that provide care to 60 thousand special needs clients in Ontario.

The danger is in seeing the ruling as punative, and starting the circular " Ontario Christian business owners are persecuted discussion."

I continue to take exception to the inference that other agencies involved in this kind of care are less ethical.

All medical facilities have codes of conduct.
I read the response of founder James Reese. I understand his beliefs are genuine, and they do not meet the special exception clause. Nor should they.

I strongly object to Christian Horizons making statements they are exceptional in providing special care to those with special needs because they are Christians with extra faith and the signed statements to prove it.

They are not.
This is far from the only organization that has faced HRC's, regulatory agencies, or even courts for professional non-compliance or criminal conduct.

Christian Horizons won.

While they cannot use the Lifestyle and Morality Statement as a condition of employment, they will find subtle and legal around that perceived loss.
They've been ordered to get caught up to other businesses and take basic human rights training.

That is not sinister or opening doors to "those beliefs and lifestyle are directly opposed to the Christian faith."

They don't have to hire competent Jews, Muslims, Hindus, athiests or Christians they find objectionable and they never did.

"to opening the door to anyone as an employee, even those those beliefs and lifestyle"

Prove it.
Show me as it applies to Ontario employment standards.

You read the ruling. What part of the special exception clause being unapplicible isn't clear?

Heinz did the honourable thing and quit. Far more significant was her courage in taking Christian Horizons to an employment tribunal.
Most women don't put themselves through an arduous and lengthy employment tribunal process.

LG, I agree we don't know all the facts.
I don't think it's in dispute that not confiding to the employer about the change her personal life cost her more than a job.

I commend this woman for not losing her faith.

This was an employment case, not Christian persecution or opening doors to what ifs and oh nos.

I have some sympathy for Christian Horizons.

I don't see them as much different than Habitat for Humanity with their founder difficulties, or the recent Wheaton College case. The board has to weigh the founders desires against reality.

It takes visionaries to start ministries and visionaries don't get where they are going by playing by the rules or showing flexibility to those who work with/for them.

We aren't discussing The Salvation Army, other evangelical and mainstream churches or parachurch organizations who provide services, because they don't have persecution complexes or go through the process needed for exception clauses.

This. does. not.
The adjudicator did not throw out established law in this case either.

The ruling could not have been clearer on why the special exception clause did not apply.

Evangelicalism is not monolithic, we don't hold the gold standard on ethics, professionalism, standards.

For Christian Horizons to even imply their business is being persecuted or misunderstood is shameful and sad.
I'd love to know who broke off the required mediation.
Bets on Christian Horizons lawyers anyone? The fact they might consider appeal is pathetic.

A respectful and educational discussion, thanks.


Glenn Penner said...

I appreciate your comments, BD. We are not, of course, apologists for Christian Horizons. They certainly may not have been perfect in how they dealt with this. Dealing with staff issues is rarely clean and tidy. Having said that, I am still concerned that with the OHRC forcing CH to abandon its right to decide whom they will or will not hire. The state does not have that right, especially given that the funding was not an issue but the scope of its ministry. This is the issue we are concerned, regardless of who the organization involved was.

Anonymous said...

It seems OK to lie in writing and falsify your credentials in order to get a job ... but when caught in that lie ... you then accuse others.

It is no surprise that Barbara Hall is so bigoted against Christians. When she was mayor of Toronto - she was the only one that boycotted the lighting of the Christmas tree in Nathan Phillips square. Her reason: The Salvation Army was volunterring to play the Christmas carols (as they did every year) and they taught that homosexuality is sin. So she boycotted this traditional event because this church was not hypocritical. She knows better than God what is sin - and her rulings against God's people is clearly done with the same hatred for anything Godly.

There is much persecution in Canada today against one minority. You are mandated to tolerate everyone except Christians. You are to accept all faiths except the Christian faith.

Organizations that practice what they preach, and offer to serve the marginalized BECAUSE of their love for Jesus are attacked repeatedly. Those living in darkness would rather shoot the messenger than educate themselves as to what scripture teaches. You can choose to ignore scripture - or not believe God's truth - but to hate those who do - and cause them real harm for their beliefs is something the HRC should be DEFENDING not prosecuting.

To mandate that these organizations must be hypocrites is insulting to every thinking person. Why is nobody taking Barbara Hall to task at the HRC for her blatant hatred and bigotry towards Christians? Just because she is so hypocritical is no reason that she should be able to force others to be.

We need someone to run the HRC that is not so bigoted against one minority.

May God's protection be upon His people who are persecuted in this country.