Keeping the Faith

May 24, 2008

Author: Charles Lewis

Source: National Post

When Connie Heintz was hired as a support worker at a residence for the severely disabled, she signed a lifestyle and morality statement that, among other things, prohibited gay relationships. But a few years into her employment, Ms. Heintz, a devout Christian, "came to an understanding of who she was and her sexual orientation." Her employer, Christian Horizons, asked her to leave.

Last month, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal told Christian Horizons to pay damages. The ruling is being appealed.

It is a fight that might seem a minor skirmish between old-time evangelical Christianity and a modern view of sexuality, but the case is one of several small eruptions popping up here and in the United States that unveil a much deeper battle between the state's view of individual rights and the rights of religious institutions working in the public sphere to set their own standards.

Catholic charities in Boston have withdrawn from the adoption business because they cannot refuse same-sex couples, and in Colorado, religious leaders threatened to dramatically trim their charitable work after the government proposed a bill that would prohibit them from hiring and firing on faith-based reasons.

"We don't have any recognition of institutional religious freedom," said Janet Epp Buckingham, the former legal counsel to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. "Religious freedom seems to very much an individual right. But religious people often form institutions. So what kind of religious freedom can an institution have -- or is it just the individuals within it?"