The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), in partnership with the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and the Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative, hosted a community dialogue on human rights related to religious observance and practice. The OHRC issued a call for academic papers to be submitted on various aspects of religious human rights in order to assist in developing their policy on religion. ARPA Canada’s legal counsel Andre Schutten submitted a paper proposal arguing that greater protection of associational rights is necessary in the human rights and religious employment context.
The OHRC accepted the paper proposal and Andre attended the by-invitation-only dialogue as a speaker. Those in attendance included numerous leading academics including Professors Richard Moon, Errol Mendes, Benjamin Berger, Janet Buckingham, Bruce Ryder and Iain Benson. There was also a full complement of OHRC staff, including lawyers, policy makers and Ms. Barbara Hall (the chief commissioner) in attendance throughout the entire two-day program. Finally, there was a broad representation of various faith groups including Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i, Humanist, Atheist, Catholic, Anglican, Unitarian, Evangelical and Reformed.
Andre’s presentation focused on the community aspect of religious observance, worship and practice and why it must be protected in law. The current trends in human rights law are toward the individual. Some OHRC staff commented on how it is important for there to be diversity within a faith group (e.g. why it is good for a Christian congregation to have an atheist organist – it provides exposure to diversity.) Andre wanted to counter this perspective; it is very important that the Commission and government respect the right of religious individuals to define for themselves who they are and who they are not! For example, just because one person claiming to be Christian and also embraces the homosexual lifestyle, does not mean that all other Christians will do the same or should do the same. For Christians, what is at stake is our confessional understanding of the communion of saints.
Andre’s presentation was respectfully received. Some follow-up comments from participants suggested that they still preferred the rights of the individual to trump the desires or identity of the group. However, there were a few strong and powerful voices raised in agreement with Andre’s presentation, in support of allowing religious associations to freely come together to the exclusion of others.
We are thankful for this opportunity to add our voice in shaping the creed policy of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Although this is an ongoing process, we hope that the words delivered did not fall on deaf ears, but rather that the staff and policy thinkers at the OHRC will give careful consideration to the arguments made by Andre so that our religious communities may continue to flourish without undue interference from the state.
To read Andre’s oral comments and his written submissions, see the attachments below.