Lawsuit? Gov't Says Pastor Who Believes 'More Outdated Parts of the Bible' Can't Foster Kids
Last October, a Canadian pastor and his wife were denied the opportunity to foster children after a social worker asked the pastor if he believes "the more outdated parts of the Bible," specifically passages on sexuality. A lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms sent a demand letter urging Child Services to reconsider, but the Justice Centre had not heard back by the deadline Tuesday. The pastor is considering taking legal action.
"As of right now, I don't believe we've had a response, so we're going to discuss with the clients what the next steps should be, whether court action should be pursued," John Carpay, the Justice Centre's president, told PJ Media in an interview on Wednesday. He mentioned a similar adoption case, suggesting that the law would clearly defend the pastor if the dispute went to court.
Melanie McLearon, director of communications & community relations at Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions, told PJ Media "we have corresponded with the Centre on January 24 and again on February 4 with plans to provide both a formal response as well as having requested a meeting."
The Justice Centre sent the demand letter late last month, with a deadline of February 5.
According to the demand letter, the Simcoe Muskoka Child, Youth and Family Services office in Barrie, Ontario rejected the Christian couple's application after a staffer (B, name redacted as per Social Services request) asked the pastor (L) if his church "still believes in some of the more outdated parts of the Bible." Since the Child Services office is a government office, this hostile question suggests an official government position on religious beliefs.
Later in the interview, Ms. B questioned L [full name redacted], who is a [redacted] pastor, regarding his religious beliefs. She asked him if his church was a "fundamental" church that "still believes in some of the more outdated parts of the Bible." L responded that his church believes and adheres to all parts of the Bible.
Ms. B then commented that her son is "gay" and that he had been told by churches in the past that homosexuality is a "sin".
L responded that although he believes in the Bible and the Bible does identify homosexual behaviour as a "sin", he believes all people are created in the image of God and are worthy of respect, dignity and honor, and that, in accordance with their beliefs, him and his wife would provide any child in their care with unconditional love, respect, and compassion regardless of the child’s sexuality.
B also told the pastor that foster parents are not allowed to spank children, and the pastor pledged not to spank his children or any foster children.
While the staffer did not prove quite as hostile when questioning the pastor's wife (A), both parents "felt that their sincerely-held religious beliefs were odious to Ms. B."
Months after their interview, the parents learned that their application had been dismissed.
"We also wanted to let you know that we feel that the policies of our agency do not appear to fit with your values and beliefs and therefore, we will be unable to move forward with an approval for your family as a resources home," the rejection letter reads.
According to the demand letter, the pastor called Child Services and asked B what "values and beliefs" had disqualified him and his wife. The staffer B brought up the spanking policy and "implied she did not expect L and A to honour [sic] their commitment and stated that most families who spank their children are unable to cease doing so."
B then referenced "Child Services’ 'anti-oppressive' policy and L and A views regarding homosexuality. L reiterated their commitment to treating any child in their care with unconditional love, respect, and compassion regardless of their sexuality, gender or anything else. Ms. B responded that she 'had to put [Child Services’] policies first'."
The demand letter claims that Child Services violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in denying the pastor and his wife. "Governments at all levels are precluded from favouring [sic] any one belief system over another, including beliefs regarding sexuality, and from discriminating against the expression of minority beliefs," the letter reads.
"Child Services has imposed an unwritten, subjective 'values test' that prospective foster parents must meet before they may be approved. The result is that prospective foster parents are required to discard their sincerely-held religious beliefs, even though there is no evidence that these beliefs would negatively affect foster children," the letter adds. "This is a violation of Child Services’ duty of neutrality and is unconstitutional."
John Carpay, the Justice Centre president, admitted that private adoption and foster care agencies should have the freedom to operate according to their beliefs. "There are some private adoption agencies in Canada, but the one that we're dealing with here is government-run, government-funded," he explained.
Carpay also suggested that if the pastor and his wife make a legal case, they are likely to prevail.
Last May, the Alberta government reversed a decision denying an evangelical Christian couple's request to adopt a child due to their religious views on sexuality and gender identity. The government reversed course after the Justice Centre got involved.
"A couple wanted to adopt went through the process and they passed with flying colors, they were deemed to be stable and in a good marriage, loving, caring, compassionate, psychologically healthy ... and the sole reason for turning them down was that they believed in a biblical perspective on sexuality," Carpay told PJ Media. "The social service agency said, 'We don't think that you would be capable of loving and supporting a child with same-sex attraction.'"
In that case, the agency asked the couple if they would encourage an adopted child to "explore his sexuality." According to Carpay, "they said, 'Gay or straight, we wouldn't encourage our kids to explore sexuality outside of marriage.' We took the government to court and the government reversed its position."
As for the spanking issue, Canada's Supreme Court upheld the legality of spanking for kids between the ages of 2 and 12 years old.
McLearon told PJ Media that the Child Services office is "unable to discuss specific situations or cases involving individuals interacting with our agency." She did agree to "respond with regards to the process that we have in place for approving foster homes," however.
McLearon laid out the "rigorous process of assessment, training, and processes that we follow in order to approve new foster homes." The process involves a SAFE (Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation) home study and a PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) pre-service training.
The SAFE home study involves "the discussion of important issues pertaining to parenting and invites applicants to examine their own beliefs, values and feelings."
In a follow-up statement, McLearon explained that part of the assessment process involves ensuring that foster parents will protect the rights of children "as outlined in the Child, Youth and Family Services Act which includes the prohibition of corporal punishment and respects the child’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, creed (which includes religious beliefs), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and cultural and linguistic heritage."
This helps to justify the concern that foster parents should teach kids who identify as LGBT well, but it does not justify the lack of trust shown to the pastor, who pledged to honor all kids' dignity regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
McLearon did not clarify whether or not the Child Services office has a standard for what religious beliefs are too "outdated" for potential foster parents. She also did not say whether the office considers parents who once spanked their children untrustworthy on the issue of future spanking.
McLearon did explain, however, that the PRIDE Model of Practice dates back two decades and "is used, in whole or in part, across the United States and in more than 25 countries."
The case seems to boil down to discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs on sexuality, which B allegedly described as coming from "the more outdated parts of the Bible." It seems Child Services decided some parts of the Bible are too "outdated" for potential foster parents and that a religious test is necessary to prevent such believers from raising foster kids.
If so, this case is far worse than just an episode of anti-religious discrimination. It arguably involves a government official deciding what will be orthodox in religion. If this is not the case, the Child Services office should clarify its position and apologize for the misunderstanding.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.