Canadian Court Holds that Religious-based Organization Can Require Employees to Adhere to a Moral Code

May 2010 - Ontario

The Ontario Divisional Court (the "ODC") has issued its ruling in the case of Heintz v. Christian Horizons, a decision on appeal from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the "HRTO"), and termed a "landmark case of religious freedom." Christian Horizons required all of its employees, including Connie Heintz, to sign a code of moral conduct. One provision of the code banned sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage, and when Ms. Heintz subsequently entered a gay relationship, her employment was terminated.  She filed a complaint with the HRTO, which found in her favor. On appeal, the ODC held that a religious-based organization can require its employees to adhere to a moral code, even though the organization may serve people not affiliated with the particular religion. However, rather peculiarly, the ODC also held that, given the nature of Ms. Heintz's position, she was not required to adhere to the code.

According to National Post columnist Scott Maniquet, the ruling "has cleared up the general principle of the rights of faith-based charities to form religious codes of conduct for their staff, but clarified little about how that should work in practice or whether it sets a clear precedent for future conflicts."  John Pellow, head of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, which represents 3,000 charitable organizations, observed: "We have a team of lawyers trying to figure it out. We don't know what it means [in practice] for our groups."