The recent Supreme Court decision in the United States about religious freedom we hope augurs good news for Canada. On January 11, 2012, a unanimous ruling was made in the case of, "Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School versus Equal Employment Opportunity Commission." The American government claimed that the Lutheran Church didn't have the authority to fire a minister who had been trained by the Church for six years and elected by the congregation. The minister who taught other subjects along with religion filed for discrimination after being dismissed. The White House was ready to challenge the First Amendment that protects religious liberty.
The Supreme Court in its 39 page ruling supported past decisions in saying that the American Constitution has always provided for "ministerial exemptions", an autonomy when it comes to employment agreements between religious institutions and their minsters or clergy. The White House, however, through the Department of Justice argued against this provision and went further: they asked for the exemption to be removed. Nevertheless, the court agreed that the Church was within its rights to "fire a religious minister." Remember we are considering a legal religious right and not whether the firing was justified. The decision is good news for all those who believe in the right to religious freedom.
It's the kind of decision that we hope the Supreme Court of Canada will soon make in the Quebec family who has been fighting for the right to have their children withdrawn from the province's mandated generic Ethics and Religious Culture course. A favourable decision would raise the obvious question for Catholic schools in Ontario: Do they have the denominational right to dismiss employees including teachers who are living in contradiction of the faith, regardless of what the teachers' unions may say? Do Catholic boards have the legal right to disregard the "Equity" policy?
Chief Justice John Roberts makes it very clear that the American government had no legal right to undermine the Church's decision. In his words, “Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the free exercise clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments. According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the establishment clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.”
The government then, should not be deciding who the Church selects to perform its religious functions. To force it to so is to undermine its very existence. This is a huge Constitutional victory for the freedom of all religious institutions to hire their own teachers, ministers, priests and rabbis. American citizens should be asking their federal government to explain why they are spending tax payer dollars to try to penalize people for practicing their faith and are ready and willing to even impose fines.
In Canada, we continue to find it harder to keep our religious freedom. We live in a society that has no law on abortion, but continues to kill tens of thousands of babies each year. This is an attack on all those who believe in the sanctity of life and their right to religious beliefs. Our Catholic schools, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia, are being forced to accept policies, such as the "Equity and Inclusive Strategy", which are an outright contradiction of the faith. It's a declaration of war on religious liberty. Why should religious organization and educational institutions be legally coerced into accepting regulations that contradict the faith, curtail religious expression and do away with freedom of conscience? We leave that judgement to the reader.
The government should be protecting religious liberty and freedom of conscience. What kind of country will Canada be without religious freedom? The government in forcing people to violate their faith by accepting a materialistic secularist agenda is not building a better society, but a more divided and less tolerant one. The American Supreme Court has told the Obama government that they made a legal and moral mistake in trying to challenge the Constitutional right of religious liberty. Canada too has much to learn from this refreshing legal decision.