Can Christian organizations in Canada discriminate based on religion when hiring employees? Such groups are still attempting to figure that out, months after a court decision was supposed to answer that question.
An Ontario Divisional Court ruled in May that Christian organizations can't take religion into account when hiring support employees. But at the same time, the decision gave Christian organizations more hiring freedoms than they had under earlier rulings, experts said.
Connie Heintz filed suit against her employer, Christian Horizons, in 2001 for discriminating against her because she was a lesbian. Christian Horizons, which ministers to the developmentally disabled, requires each employee to sign a Lifestyle and Morality Statement. The statement identifies unacceptable behavior, including adultery and homosexual relationships.
Heintz signed the statement when hired in 1995, but entered into a same-sex relationship in 1999.
Canadian law bars discriminatory hiring. However, religious organizations can claim an exemption "if they are primarily engaged in serving the interests of their religious community, where the restriction is reasonable and bona fide because of the nature of the employment," according to the court.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal determined in 2008 that Christian Horizons could not discriminate in its hiring because it was not primarily engaged in serving the interests of like-minded Christians, and because religious adherence wasn't a reasonable requirement for an employee caring for disabled people.
The appeals court overturned part of the tribunal's decision, ruling that Christian Horizons was serving like-minded believers by giving them an outlet to serve others, leaving the organization free ...1