Friday, April 25, 2008

Fired lesbian employee wins human rights case against Christian Horizons

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled today in favour of Connie Heintz, a lesbian employee who was forced to leave her job at Christian Horizons. For five years, Heintz was a support worker at a Waterloo residential home for five developmentally delayed adults. She quit her job in September 2000, after employees and supervisors made her final months there "the worst time of my life."

After revealing she was a lesbian, "they said this would be grounds for dismissal," she said. "On a regular basis, I was told to look elsewhere for work...I was harassed. I constantly had to watch my back," Heintz said in an interview with the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

"They made allegations about me." Heintz said some co-workers made unfounded accusations that she abused residents. How truly Christian of them (not)!

This news release from the Tribunal gives more background on the case and the Tribunal's decision:

"Ms. Heintz, an individual of deep Christian faith, and a model employee for five years with Christian Horizons, was providing care and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. Like other employees, when first hired, Ms. Heintz was required to sign a Lifestyle and Morality Statement, which prohibits, among other things, homosexual relationships. After several years, Ms. Heintz came to terms with her sexual orientation as a lesbian. When Christian Horizons discovered this, they advised her that she was not complying with the Statement and required her to leave the organization."

"The Tribunal ruled that Christian Horizons could not require its employees to sign [such a] Statement. It found that Christian Horizons is primarily engaged in serving the disability-related needs of its clients, and the prohibition on homosexual relationships was not a legitimate job requirement for providing quality care and support to disabled residents.

"Christian Horizons describes itself as an Evangelical Christian Ministry that provides care and residential services to 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals of all races, creeds and sexual orientations. With over 180 residential homes across Ontario, and 2,500 employees, Christian Horizons is the largest provider of community living services in the province, funded almost exclusively by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

"This decision is important," commented Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, "because it sets out that when faith-based and other organizations move beyond serving the interests of their particular community to serving the general public, the rights of others, including employees, must be respected."


This decision makes perfect sense. Any organization or business, religious or otherwise, that provides services to the public has no right to practise this kind of discrimination.

I'm sure many Christian groups will howl this is yet another example of the state undermining religious freedom, ignoring the impact this kind of discrimination has on its LGBT victims, let alone the clients they purport to serve. Shame on those who do.

15 comments:

Kevin said...

Matt,

I've just carefully read through the tribunal's decision, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the organization is receiving public funds. I encourage you to check it out.

If Christian Horizons was doing exactly the same work purely from private donations, the ruling would have been the same.

Do you still agree with it?

Matt Guerin said...

Thanks, Kevin. Yes I do agree with the decision regardless of whether or not it was due to the fact that Christian Horizons receives public funds. Any organization or business providing services to the public like this are obligated not to discriminate in an illegal way.

If it were a religious organization that serves only other faithful (and wasn't receiving public funds), then there might be an argument against OHRC sanction as it would violate freedom of religion. However, since this Christian organization was servicing the public, it has to comply. The fact that it was receiving public funds merely strengthens the argument, in my mind, that it should be able to discriminate.

This reminds me of the Marc Hall issue - a gay student in a Catholic School who wanted to bring his boyfriend to his prom. The Catholic board said no citing Catholic doctrine against homosexuality. But a court ordered the board to allow him and not cancel the prom. One of the arguments was the board is serving the public and takes public funds - therefore it must comply to Human Rights Code standards, not just Catholic standards. Of course, that case wasn't formerly resolved legally, so there still remains some confusion about where human rights laws apply or don't apply in cases involving religious freedom and public services...in the Hall case, it was the student's right to equality versus the Catholic board's freedom of religion.

Kevin said...

Thanks, Matt, for your reply. I appreciate where you are coming from.

It's hard for me to find easy answers in cases like this where rights and freedoms come into conflict.

I'm an evangelical Christian myself, and part of that belief is that the right context for sexual relationships is a marriage between a man and a woman.

(Let me hasten to add that I don't say that to offend you or denigrate you in any way. I deplore the hateful comments that are sometimes made by Christians who share this viewpoint. I think that as Christians we need to show respect and indeed love for all people, especially vulnerable minorities like the LGBT community. I also respect you for looking at this issue in a positive, thoughtful way.)

Yet at the same time I'm uncomfortable with the ruling of the tribunal since, if applied consistently, it means that Christian organizations have only two options: (a) stop serving the general public and retreat into a religious ghetto, or (b) compromise their moral beliefs.

I guess I can see both sides, but I worry that the long term implication of this is that Christian organizations will be barred from participating in civil society unless they "stick to their own kind" so to speak. I think that would be a tragedy, especially in a case like this one where the group is doing so much good for exceptional children.

Matt Guerin said...

The alternative is that civil society would have to tolerate blatant and disgraceful discrimination practiced by such organizations, whether against gays or women or Muslims or Jews or what have you. That is far worse, in my opinion. Can you imagine a Muslim organization providing services but demanding all Ontario female clients cover up and not go near male employees?

As it stands, yes I realize this means that certain religious organizations that provide services to the general public like this would have to either stop serving the public in this way, or compromise. If religious organizations refuse to compromise, then yes their activity in mainstream society will become less and less. And other secular organizations will have to take their place, or at least religious organizations that show a willingness to compromise and serve all people, not just those they agree with.

But I think over time so-called moral beliefs will change and evolve. The Church used to justify and support slavery hundreds of years ago (and they could even quote the bible to do it). Now of course, such justifications are taboo and long gone. So too will go the current rules against homosexuality.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no real justification for the Christian position against homosexuality. Many biblical scholars dispute the passages oft quoted from the bible against homosexuality, saying they're taken out of context and have no relevance outside of the time they were written. I agree with that completely.

So this is not a matter of Christians having to compromise their beliefs, this is a matter of SOME Christians who CHOOSE to believe that homosexuality is wrong being faced with a dilemma. I'd say most moderate Christians out there have no problem with homosexuality and would certainly not do the kinds of things the folks at Christian Horizons allegedly did to Connie Heintz.

This is a tough issue, but the trend is clear. Those religions that refuse to compromise and evolve will get smaller and smaller and more isolated from the mainstream.

Kevin said...

Thanks Matt for your thoughts.

I don't think we're going to agree on some of these points, so I'll just leave you with one thought: I think that in the last 50 years the churches that have compromised the most with secular values (e.g. the older Protestant denominations like the United Church) have slowly dwindled away, while those with a traditional view of the Bible have grown consistently. This isn't just my opinion, but it has been repeatedly verified by historians and sociologists. But I hope that these more conservative groups, of which I am a part, will continue to show love to everybody, including LGBT folks, even while maintaining their convictions.

Anyway, I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss this with me, even though we don't see eye to eye on such a charged issue.

I wish you all the best.

Cheers,

Kevin

Rach said...

The bottom line is this. The Bible makes it clear in several places that the practice of homosexuality is sin.

Leviticus 18:22 - You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

Romans 1:26-27 - For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

If a person says they are followers of Christ and believe the Bible to be the Word of God, then they have no choice but to acknowledge that God says homosexuality is an abomination. If they accept the Word, then their actions must be in accordance. It is proper and fitting that those who claim to be Christians will not hire or continue the employment of an openly gay (and in this case unrepentant according to Scripture) person.

If you don't support racism and you believe it to be an abomination, would you attend a KKK rally even though they have the right to freedom of speech and to assemble?

If you believe that abortion is legalized murder, would you then partner with a doctor who performs abortions and does not believe there is anything immoral about it?

Wouldn't your moral convictions prevent you from partnering with such people? Should we then accuse you of discrimination?

Matt Guerin said...

Rach, fundamentalists have chosen to believe the Bible, written by mortal men, is the word of God. They are wrong, but they have the right to be wrong. Many other non-evangelical Christians have chosen to disagree with that world/religious view and chosen a more thoughtful, contemplative, personal approach to their faith. They have a right to do so without being mocked by fundamentalists.
Evangelicals who cling to literal and one-sided interpretations of the Bible do NOT have a monopoly on what it means to be Christian.

You wrote: "It is proper and fitting that those who claim to be Christians will not hire or continue the employment of an openly gay (and in this case unrepentant according to Scripture) person."

Just because you choose a narrow view of the bible doesn't mean other Christians must as well. It is not proper for Christians to discriminate based on sexual orientation in this way.

Furthermore, have you ever eaten shrimp? Do you sacrifice an animal regularly as a sacrifice to God? The bible was used to justify slavery, violence against women, etc. I'm sorry, but you can't pick and choose which biblical interpretations are to be followed, if you are going to be a literalist.

On this subject, we'll agree to disagree.

Rach said...

Thank You for responding. I'll jump right in.

With the passages I included in the last posting, can you really come up with multiple interpretations? If it says not to lie with a man as one lies with a woman, what other interpretation can we come up with? If I said do not lie with an animal as you would a male or female, isn't it pretty clear what's being said? If you can acknowledge in this case that sexual relations with an animal is being addressed and prohibited (bestiality), then why would it change when we approach the passage in Leviticus? The prohibition is clear. So, when did it change? Who redefined it and why? If you don't mind my asking you to respond, how would you interpret that verse?

If you are willing, please answer the questions I put forward about attending a KKK rally or partnering with a doctor who performs abortions. If your conviction is that these actions are morally wrong, how would you respond?

You asked about my eating shrimp or sacrificing animals. I will address that with two verses.

Jesus addressed the issue of not eating certain foods - Mark 7:18-19

Jesus said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" {Thus He declared all foods clean.)

There is a pattern here. What was once prohibited in the OT is now allowed in the NT.

Animal Sacrifices - Hebrews 10:11-12

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Because of Jesus' death, there is no need for any further animal sacrifices to be made to atone for sin. His death was the last sacrifice, once and for all which takes away the sin of the world.

Here we find that a prescribed action in the OT is no longer needed under the new covenant but these are not the same. As what has happened concerning homosexuality. Homosexuality was expressly forbidden in the OT and forbidden in the NT (according to the passages I shared). That has not changed from one covenant to the next. This brings me back to the question of who decided that things are different now?

Finally, it is true that men have used the Bible to condone all sorts of unrighteous behavior and for me, the Bible is now being used to condone homosexuality even though it says the opposite. That is the same thing that occurred when the Bible was used to condone slavery and violence against women, etc.

The Bible says how a slave should be treated. Men did the opposite. The Bible says how women should be treated. Men do the opposite and then the Bible is cast in a bad light as if God's Word is to blame for the sinful behavior of men. One only needs to read through the Scriptures to see that it is not the Bible that is wrong but men who perform these acts that God condemns and then use the Scriptures to condone their contrary behavior.

Matt Guerin said...

Today you and others like you choose to ignore the historic context in which these words were written. I don't deny those passages condemn homosexuality, but I correctly interpret them as being written by powerful men and instituted into biblical texts by even more powerful men. You misinterpret them as the word of God. Those men can no more speak for God than you or I. Period. That is what I believe.

When the OT was written, Jewish tribes faced constant threat and the need to procreate to keep the tribes alive was paramount - thus banning same sex relations between men can be seen as pragmatic, a sanction designed to ensure all are procreating to keep the tribes alive. Today, such threats to communities/tribes/etc. don't exist as we have a world over-population problem. Secondly, the word abomination has been misinterpreted, by you and others. The word abomination at the time it was used in the OT to "ban" homosexuality simply meant at the time deviating from the norm or the usual way to live. Evangelicals today wrongly use the modern definition of 'abomination' to denounce homosexuality as a sin.

Homosexuality speaks to the duality of humanity and the genders, in my estimation. We blend the gap between men and women in life. Gay men are men with a large feminine side, lesbians are women with a large masculine side. All together, we represent the spectrum of human existence. Every one of us is different, we all fall somewhere on the spectrum between masculine and feminine. In my mind, God loves us all.

One should always live in accordance with one's values. But if the only source of one's values is a book written by bigots 1500 years ago, then you've got a problem. My values are informed by more tangible, real, meaningful sources.

Rach said...

Okay. I can see the first area we differ in that causes division. That is believing the Bible is the Word of God or not. If a person does not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, then it would be impossible to hold them accountable to what it says in both belief and action. So the issue would be between those who call themselves Christians but are on opposite sides on this issue. Since the Bible for you is an outdated book written by bigots, then I would not expect you to live according to it's words.

The next issue becomes what the Bible actually says and that would be addressed to those who claim to be Christians and believe the Bible to be the Word of God subject to obedience.

You mentioned that it was pragmatic for there to be a ban on homosexuality in order for reproduction to take place but there is no such need now since there is over population. So are you saying that if there were no issues of over population right now, homosexuality would still and should still be banned and it would be an act of wisdom (pragmatic) to do so?

This is not the only issue that has been tagged as an "abomination" in the Bible. Consider:

Graven images of other gods were called an abomination - Deuteronomy 7:25

The wages of a harlot presented as an offering to God - Deut 23:18

Lying Lips and a false balance - Prov 11:1 & Prov 12:22

The man who justifies the wicked and condemns the righteous are an abomination to God - Prov 17:15

The one who turns away from the Law of God. His prayers are an abomination to God - Prov 28:9

In each of these examples, it is not addressing the mere "deviating from the norm or the usual way to live" but rather these things are considered sinful behaviors. Wouldn't you agree? A man or woman cannot live like this (practicing these behaviors) without bad results that ultimately harm themselves.

So who redefined the word "abomination"? When did it become something less than a denouncing of sin?

I can readily admit that there are men who have a more dominant feminine side as well as women however, does that mean one should practice homosexuality?

Those men who have a more feminine side, don't simply acknowledge that as a part of their masculinity but they move forward (some, not all) in trying to live as an actual woman, which they are not. In the same way, women do that. They dress like men and if you don't look hard enough nowadays, you could not tell the difference in some cases. They are trying to live as an actual man and not a woman who is attracted to other women. There is a difference to me.

In other words, if that woman is trying to live life as a man in every way, she is seeking a heterosexual relationships - a man and a woman. She just wants to be the man in the relationship (again, I'm talking about some and not all). I observe the same thing with some men.

I do believe that God loves all that He has created but like a parent, that does not mean He accepts all the behaviors His creation indulges in. Parents are this way. They love their children but will not tolerate and support everything they do.

Rach said...

Hi Matt,

You said, "I don't deny those passages condemn homosexuality, but I correctly interpret them as being written by powerful men and instituted into biblical texts by even more powerful men."

So the question I would pose to you is if even you can admit that the passages shared do condemn homosexuality, are you also willing to at least question those who say they are Christians and yet do not share the same opinion as those passages regarding homosexuality?

You said earlier that "many other non-evangelical Christians have chosen to disagree with the world/religious view and chosen a more thoughtful, contemplative, personal approach to their faith."

So my next question to you would be, are these people really following the Bible in this area or have they cast their lot with another belief system that is contrary to the written Word as found in the Bible?

If their beliefs and practice and/or support are contrary to the written Word, then can we really call them Christians, followers of Christ?

Matt Guerin said...

Rach, we simply will have to agree to disagree. I don't believe the Bible can be considered the word of God. I don't even believe much of it even happened. Quite frankly, we have considerable evidence to even discount the Gospels as mostly fiction. We know how the Church has abused it power over the centuries and we know the content of the Bible was manipulated from the earliest centuries to conform to the wishes of the powers-that-be.

However, coming from a humanist point of view, I choose to believe that the core of the Jesus story as told in the bible, is beautiful and can inspire in people a good system for how to live. Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, provides us with an excellent ideal on how to live and how to face death and hopefully conquer it. It doesn't matter if the gospel stories are true, much of what's in them speak to certain universal truths.

I think the truth of God and the universe is far from revealed to us. No human being can absolutely know God's truth. The Christian viewpoint is merely the latest in a long line of religious interpretations of life and it won't be the last.

We can only look at the reality of the world to try to guess God's will. When I witness the evil that is done when homosexuals are forced to deny their natural selves, to live empty lives without love, it's clear to me that condemning homosexuality, particularly for no good reason, cannot be God's will (regardless of what some uninformed man wrote 2,000 years ago.)

You also need to stop equating "fundamentalist/literalist Christian" as simply "Christian." There are many Christians who have no problem with homosexuality, who do NOT literally interpret every word in the bible as God's word, and have every right to call themselves Christians too.

You asked, 'So are you saying that if there were no issues of over population right now, homosexuality would still and should still be banned and it would be an act of wisdom (pragmatic) to do so?'

No I am not saying that. I was simply giving the original denunciation in the OT some context and explanation.

Homosexuality occurs naturally in a small percentage of human beings across all groups/ethnicities/societies. I believe it's due to the fact that we are a dual gender species. While we all biologically can be classified as either men or women (except for the rare hermaphrodites), our sexuality is less cut and dry. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum between masculine and feminine extremes. I also think culture and identity politics has a huge impact on how we view our selves.

I also believe that practicing homosexuality is PREFERABLE for people born with this natural inclination. I live a homosexual life, I've been with my partner for 2.5 years, we have never cheated on each other, we are both very healthy and very happy. There is no other way for us to live. I believe I am living out God's destiny for me.

I do agree there are other "behaviours" or indulgences that people can engage in that are wrong: stealing, cheating, killing, pedophilia, etc. There are behaviours that are bad, unhealthy, and are wrong by definition. They violate the sanctity of individuals. No one has a right to violate or hurt another human being, to take away that person's choice, etc.

But our society has rightly deduced that homosexuality is not inherently wrong. If you assume that the only way to lead a homosexual life is through unsafe sex and unhealthy choices, etc. (and spare me the usual litany of diseases many fundamentalists claim homosexuals have) then you are simply speaking from ignorance. The portrait painted of homosexuals by fundamentalist Christians frequently bears no resemblance with my actual experience and life.

Rach said...

Yes we do have to agree to disagree. I do appreciate the discourse however. You said, "If you assume that the only way to lead a homosexual life is through unsafe sex and unhealthy choices, etc. (and spare me the usual litany of diseases many fundamentalists claim homosexuals have) then you are simply speaking from ignorance. The portrait painted of homosexuals by fundamentalist Christians frequently bears no resemblance with my actual experience and life."

I actually do not believe this at all and I would not generally describe any homosexual this way.

I do recognize that we would not agree on this issue unless we were in agreement that we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, agree to use the Bible as the standard and final word and agree to live accordingly.

Take Care and thanks again.

Matt Guerin said...

Rach, you are saying the only way to be a Christian is to be a fundamentalist/literalist Christian who believes every word in the bible. This is false and I think most people who call themselves Christian would disagree with you.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I was taught by my mother and many others the only books in the bible we had to believe were the four Gospels.

I've since come to question the gospels as well and don't consider myself Roman Catholic anymore. But see my previous comment on how I truly view the gospels today - Jesus' story could be fiction, but it doesn't really matter as it provides the best model for how to live, how to love and how to face death. And Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. That combined with my experience of homosexuality in my own life informs my perspective on this.

Isobel McKay said...

Thank you for such an interesting discussion around this issue.

My thoughts - are there not so many places in the Bible that state we must treat others with compassion? That we must treat others as we would like to be treated? Should that not be considered, above anything else?

How would the people at Christian Horizons feel if Connie had bullied THEM? How would they feel if she made THEIR last few months the worst time of their lives? They were not treating her like they would want to be treated. They were not respecting her rights as a human being to dignity and respect.

Shouldn't we be thinking about the fact that compassion, respect, and dignity - all emphasized in the Bible - were seriously lacking in this workplace?