The convergence of recent court decisions and news headlines speaks of the continuing evolution of homosexual rights, not just in our country but internationally. Based on recent experience, the growing body of law and public opinion on this topic create the potential for inevitable and ever-increasing conflict between religious freedom and legally recognized societal values. Perhaps this has always been the case to some extent. Certainly, historically, Christians have at various times been embraced, ignored and persecuted by society, based upon their respective values. Freedom, or the lack of it, follows.
This conflict of values is evidenced on numerous public and private fronts, but three recent newsworthy items highlight the interface between historical Christian principles and emerging homosexual rights.
First, there is the case of Orville Nichols, a Saskatchewan marriage commissioner since 1983, who, in 2005, refused to perform a same-sex marriage based upon it contradicting his beliefs. The homosexual couple he refused to marry commenced proceedings before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal. In evidence before the Tribunal, Mr. Nichols stated that his faith takes first place in his life, with Bible reading and prayer constituting an important part of his daily routine. But even before the Tribunal makes the decision in Mr. Nichols’ case, the Saskatchewan government has stated that it will remove marriage commissioners who refuse to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples.
The second item comes from a recent article in an Ottawa-based homosexual news publication, Capital Xtra. This article proposes that the Ontario educational system should exert more control over Christian private school curriculum and staff hiring. The article quotes a homosexual Christian teacher who states, “All private schools tend to be at the least implicitly homophobic. And I would say all religiously formed independent schools are definitely homophobic.” The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario reportedly argues that private religious schools shouldn’t be permitted to hire teachers based on the school’s own qualification requirements (presumably, teachers who believe in the schools statement of faith and consequential code of conduct). While that dispute is just beginning to heat up, it is reflective of the Québec government’s requirement in late 2006 that private Christian schools teach sex education and Darwinian curriculum or face closure.
Of course, the third potential area of conflict is right here British Columbia. As is generally known, in the spring of 2006 Murray and Peter Corren reached agreement with the Ministry of Education settling their complaint against the government under the Human Rights Code. The complaint involved the lack of sexual orientation content of curriculum taught in the province’s schools. The settlement agreement provided the Correns with significant, extensive and ongoing input, consultation and review of required changes to school curriculum that address sexual orientation and homophobia issues. Groups representing Christian values have not yet been permitted the same level of input. Christian parents have raised concerns about what the revised curriculum will cover and any limitation placed on their ability to “opt out” or withdraw their children, on religious grounds, from classrooms where this curriculum will be taught. The outcome of this conflict is uncertain.
Contrary to being a time when Christians say, like Chicken Little, “The sky is falling!”, these evolving trends need to be recognized for what they are: societal values changing with the resulting degradation of religious privileges previously enjoyed. The only question is how will Christians respond? Perhaps instruction as to the right attitude to maintain can be found in James 1:2, with the right strategy to employ being set out in Ephesians 5:15. In any event, whether it be in the courtrooms or legislatures, in daily papers or neighbourhood discussions, the interface and potential conflict between Christian and societal values will continue to evolve and demand of all of us that we evidence a credible, caring, courageous and carefully thought out and implemented response.
This article was written by Robert G. Kuhn, a lawyer who practices in charity and not-for-profit law with the law firm of Kuhn LLP. It is only intended as a guide and cannot cover every situation. It is important to get legal advice for specific situations. If you have questions or comments about this case or other construction law matters, please contact us at 604-864-8877.