E. Reconciling Freedom of Religion with Other Values

Author:Robert J. Sharpe - Kent Roach
Profession:Court of Appeal for Ontario - Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Page 149

A number of cases have raised the issue of reconciling freedom of religion with other Charter rights and freedoms, particularly the right to equality. In Ross v New Brunswick School District No. 15,43the Supreme Court of Canada held that the decision of a provincial human rights tribunal, ordering a school board to remove from the classroom a teacher who had expressed anti-Semitic views about Jews, violated the teacher’s freedom of religion, as well as his freedom of expression. The Court stressed the need to interpret freedom of religion broadly to include all sincere religious belief and to leave the justifications for restricting freedom of religion to section 1 of the Charter. The Court then held that the removal order was justified under section 1 because any religious belief that denigrates and defames the religious beliefs of others erodes the very basis of the guarantee in s 2(a) - a basis that guarantees that every individual is free to hold and to manifest the beliefs dictated by one’s conscience.44Trinity Western University v British Columbia College of Teachers45 involved the reconciliation of freedom of religion and equality rights. A private institution in British Columbia offered baccalaureate degrees in education and applied to the British Columbia College of Teachers (the College) for permission to assume full responsibility for its program. One of the institution’s reasons for applying was its desire to have the

Page 150

full program reflect its Christian worldview. The College denied the application because it was concerned that the institution appeared to follow discriminatory practices against homosexuals; in particular, it was concerned that members were asked to sign a document agreeing to refrain from engaging in "sexual sins" including "homosexual behaviour." The majority of the Supreme Court held that the College had erred in not considering the freedom of religion of the institution’s members and in not reconciling that freedom with British Columbia public school students’ freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The majority held that neither freedom is absolute and that the appropriate place to draw the line is generally between belief and conduct. The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on those beliefs. There was no evidence that training teachers at the institution fostered discrimination in British Columbia’s public schools. Therefore, the freedom of members to hold certain religious beliefs while at the institution should be respected.

In dissent, L’Heureux-Dubé J held that the College was not required to reconcile freedom of religion with equality rights in considering the institution’s application to assume full responsibility for its program. In her view, that was not the statutory mandate of the College, and the balancing and interpretation of human rights values was beyond the College’s expertise. The College’s decision engaged only one Charter...

To continue reading