Rights tribunal backs Knights’ pro-life message at Ontario church

  • April 20, 2011
Knights of ColumbusA pro-life message on church property can’t be construed as a violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, a human rights’ tribunal has ruled.

“Freedom of religion must not be interpreted in a way that voids the positive dimension of the freedom (the right to hold beliefs, practice and disseminate them) of any meaning,” wrote Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario adjudicator Michelle Flaherty in an April 5 decision in favour of a Knights of Columbus council in l’Original, Ont.

The francophone Chevaliers de Colomb attached to the parish of Saint-Jean Baptise, an hour-and-a-half southeast of Ottawa, found itself on the defensive over a monument erected on the church’s front lawn. An inscription on the monument read (in French), “Let us pray that all life rests in the hands of God from conception until death.”

Parishioner Marguerite Dallaire complained to the Human Rights Tribunal that the pro-life inscription is “offensive and discriminatory because it denounces, victimizes and excludes women.”

Whether or not that is the case is not the business of the provincial human rights body, said Flaherty in her decision.

“The tribunal has no jurisdiction to scrutinize the content of religious teaching and beliefs, particularly where these are conveyed on the premises of a religious organization,” she wrote.

The inscription, which faces the church and can’t be read from the street, doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Tribunal because it is neither a service nor a facility as defined by Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

“It is clear to me that the applicant is attempting to use the (Ontario Human Rights Code) as a vehicle to challenge not only the monument but also the Catholic Church’s belief system and teachings. In my view, this is not an appropriate use of the code,” wrote Flaherty.

That doesn’t mean that the Human Rights Code can’t apply to religious organizations or even the distribution of religious information in other contexts, she said.

“The fact that some of a religious organization’s activities are not services or facilities for the purposes of the code does not, however, mean that other aspects of that organization’s activities will be immune from scrutiny under the code,” said the final decision.

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