Religious School’s Barring Child of Same-Sex Couple Not a Breach of Human Rights
In a perhaps-surprising decision of an adjudicator of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, a Christian evangelical school that refused to admit the adopted son of a married same-sex couple was held not to have breached the anti-discrimination provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”).
The private school had justified barring the child from its preschool program on the basis that it had a long-established biblical stance against same-sex marriage, and that to allow the child to attend would clash with the school’s teaching and values.
Faced with the school’s rejection of their application, the couple brought a complaint under the Code for discrimination based on sex, creed, marital status and family status.
The adjudicator ruled that the school’s decision fell within a narrow “special interest” exception found in s. 18 of the Code. That exception essentially permitted the school to discriminate in providing services where “membership or participation in a religious … organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination is restricted to persons who are similarly identified.” In other words, the school was not in breach of the Code if it could prove that it was effectively restricting participation in the school’s program to only those who were part of the religious group that it was designed to serve, even if that restriction was otherwise discriminatory.
The adjudicator concluded that the evangelical school fell within the definition of a “special interest” organization, and had not breached the Code-enforced right to equal treatment of services. As the adjudicator stated:
The school has a well-defined and specific set of creedal beliefs, mission statement and mandate. The respondent [school’s] evidence was clear that the school requires all parents to share these values if they are considering the school for their family.
The adjudicator added that the parents chose to apply to the school precisely because of the opportunity to immerse the child in a Christian religious educational environment. The adjudicator added:
While I empathize with the parents’ feelings of unfairness that their child would not be admitted, the respondent [school] made no secret of its beliefs and was upfront that it may not be the right fit for every family.
Does this ruling come as a surprise? What are your thoughts?
For the full-text of the decision, see: