Re-defining ‘creed’ stirs up controversy

  • January 30, 2014

The recent incident at Toronto’s York University, in which a student sought exemption from group work due to religious beliefs that forbid contact with women, attracted much media attention but perhaps did not shine as much attention as it could have on how the Ontario Human Rights Code interprets religion and gender as grounds for discrimination. On at least one level the York situation was a conflict between competing rights.

The student, whose identity is protected by privacy rules, is taking an online course in sociology. He objected when the professor, J. Paul Grayson, asked students to meet in person for a mandatory group assignment. The student wrote to Grayson expressing that “due to my firm religious beliefs … it will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women.”

After confirming with Muslim and Orthodox religious scholars that neither religion — and no other that they knew of — would forbid contact between the sexes in a classroom setting, the professor denied the request, a decision accepted by the student.