In the continuing discussion (see here and here) regarding Jim Corcoran’s decision to file a complaint against his bishop with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the Calgary Herald published an excellent op-ed today that strikes an excellent balance in the debate as to who is acting improperly in this case; Corcoran or the church. The fact is, neither party is guiltless but nevertheless, the tribunal must not intervene in this case. The state simply has no business ruling through this quasi-legal body on the practices and beliefs of a religious organization. To consider this case would signal a significant setback in religious liberty in this country.
Rights commission should stay off altar
July 19, 2009
If human rights commissions should not be adjudicating on free speech issues, neither should they involve themselves with freedom of religion issues. That a gay man in Ontario has filed a complaint against a local Catholic bishop with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is cause for alarm. The tribunal should recuse itself because religious practices must never fall under its auspices.
Jim Corcoran, a gay man who says he lives a celibate life with his same-sex partner, was told he could no longer volunteer as an altar server at St. Michael's Church in Cobourg after parishioners complained about it. Corcoran is asking the tribunal to award him $25,000 from Bishop Nicola De Angelis of the diocese of Peterborough, and $20,000 per parishioner. Corcoran became an adult altar server late last year because there were no young boys available to serve, but in April, his parish priest told him the bishop had ordered his removal.
There is plenty of blame to be spread around among all the groups involved in this case --and also plenty of room for them to work out the problem without involving tribunals.
The parishioners demonstrated an uncharitable attitude toward Corcoran. The Catholic Church's catechism advocates accepting gay parishioners with "compassion and sensitivity," recommending that "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." It also asks gay parishioners to remain chaste, which Corcoran says he has done. The parishioners' attitude toward Corcoran is hardly one of compassion. De Angelis should have taken the opportunity to point this out to them.
Corcoran should never have invited the tribunal into this quarrel, let alone ask for financial compensation--which cheapens his fight--even if he does plan to donate it to charity. The position of altar server is a volunteer one, so it is not like he must reclaim lost wages.
Canadians have seen what happens when human rights tribunals wade into the waters of the Charter. They saw it with the debacles involving rulings about free-speech issues in the last few years; they should not even be given the opportunity to see what the results are when a tribunal presumes to rule on religious issues. Churches must be free to follow the tenets of their beliefs without undue outside interference. And a squabble over an altar server position is something that should be resolved by the parties sitting down to talk to each other and work something out, not by a quasi-judicial body that has no business there.
It almost seems as if such an old-fashioned solution has gone out of style. The moment someone feels offended, he or she rushes off to the nearest human rights commission to file a complaint and demand compensation. This is an opportunity for De Angelis to give the parishioners an object lesson in exhibiting the Catholic beliefs of compassion, sensitivity and non-discrimination towards Corcoran. The two parties need to get together; the human rights tribunal needs to stay out of it.