Christian Elia

Rights league to intervene in religious freedom case

  • September 7, 2017

The Catholic Civil Rights League has become an unlikely ally of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in a case coming before the Supreme Court.

The CCRL has received intervener status in a matter with religious freedom implications that will address whether the State can overrule voluntary organizations, including religious bodies, in determining who they accept as members.

A congregation of Jehovah Witnesses has been battling in court to preserve its right to expel a member named Randy Wall. He has argued that his removal and consequent shunning has hurt his real estate business. He wants the court to order the congregation to take him back but the congregation believes the matter is beyond judicial jurisdiction.

After a lower court and the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled in Wall’s favour, the case will go to the Supreme Court on Nov. 2. It will determine whether the courts have the last word in determining who voluntary associations, whether religious or non-religious, must accept as members.

The CCRL believes the case has an important religious freedom dimension, said CCRL executive director Christian Elia.

“Freedom of religion for all in a free society must never be relegated to what we do in our places of worship typically once a week,” he said in an email interview. “Freedom of religion entails that religious groups have the right to self-govern in accordance with their faith tradition. The state must not get involved in internal disciplinary measures exercised by religions within the realm of their own clerical system and congregational membership.”

This case is important especially for Catholics because so many of the Church’s faith positions are “seen as counter-cultural today,” Elia said.

“Roman Catholics support an all-male clergy,” he said. “Catholics believe in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. Catholics believe that gender is not a social construct, that we are created male and female and finally, Catholics believe in marriage between a man and a woman, with the family being the basis of society.”

Though admitting the Church has a way to go in “winning hearts and minds, Elia stressed, “we must, however, maintain that as Catholics we have the freedom to support these beliefs in our institutions, such as schools and hospitals, and we must resist the State’s attempt to curtail our rights to govern ourselves.”

The CCRL will be intervening jointly with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The two organizations will argue the importance “for religious communities to be able to define their membership and to protect their religious character, identity and integrity,” said the EFC in a release.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has also been granted intervener status and will argue that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of private, voluntary associations to regulate their membership “immune from judicial review.”

"It is an unjustifiable violation of the freedom of association to compel members of a voluntary association to associate involuntarily with an individual that the members have determined does not meet, or no longer meets, the membership criteria the association has established,” said Justice Centre president John Carpay. “The freedom of association necessarily imparts to private associations, whether religious or non-religious, the right to exclude individuals who do not meet the membership criteria....”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.