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Legal remedy for moral failings?

Should Christian organizations legally require a moral code of conduct for their employees?

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada The Supreme Court of Canada (French: Cour suprême du Canada) is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeal in the Canadian justice system.[1]  agreed with Delwin Vriend Delwin Vriend is a Canadian who was at the center of a landmark provincial and federal legal case concerning lesbian and gay rights in Canada. Early life
Delwin Vriend, born in Sioux Center, IA in 1966 to a Canadian father and American mother, moved to Edmonton, Alberta,
 that Alberta's human rights code should protect him and all homosexuals against discrimination. Vriend alleged he was dismissed by The King's College King's College, former name of Columbia Univ.  (TKC TKC tightly-knit community
TKC Tom Kita Chara (scouting)
TKC Thomas Kvamme Consulting (Norway) 
), a Christian liberal arts college Liberal arts colleges are primarily colleges with an emphasis upon undergraduate study in the liberal arts. The Encyclopædia Britannica Concise offers the following definition of the liberal arts as a, "college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge  in Edmonton, because of his homosexuality.

Vriend had not sued TKC because, in part, religious organizations may be exempt from certain anti-discrimination measures. However, for supporters of Christian organizations, the Vriend case was a wake-up call. Had Vriend sued TKC for wrongful dismissal Wrongful dismissal, also called wrongful termination or wrongful discharge, is an idiom and legal phrase, describing a situation in which an employee's contract of employment has been terminated by the employer in circumstances where the termination breaches one or , he may have won. The exemption Christian agencies enjoy is not automatic or absolute.

On the basis of legal advice, TKC is now considering imposing a code of conduct on its teaching staff. Some Christian schools have done so; others, particularly in Alberta, are thinking of doing this. The Christian Labour Association of Canada The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) was established in 1952 and is an independent, multi-sector, multi-craft trade union representing Canadian workers on the basis of "Christian social principles.  (CLAC CLAC Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes (Canada)
CLAC Christian Labour Association of Canada
CLAC Civil Liberties Action Committee (Guyana)
CLAC Comunità per le Libere Attività Culturali
) has recently adopted such a policy for its national board members and representatives. Under some conduct policies, such as the one CLAC adopted, Christian organizations may, at their sole discretion, dismiss staff subject to moral failings. Among these failings are lying, swearing, premarital and extramarital sex Noun 1. extramarital sex - sexual intercourse between individuals who are not married to one another
free love

criminal congress, unlawful carnal knowledge - forbidden or tabu sexual intercourse between individuals
, drag and alcohol abuse, and homosexual conduct.

Supporters of such a code of conduct suggest that preserving the Christian character of an organization requires staff and board members who provide examples of strong Christian character and faith in their private lives. Those in positions of leadership should give evidence of their confession, "walk their talk," and not bring disrepute dis·re·pute  
Damage to or loss of reputation.


a loss or lack of good reputation

Noun 1.
 to the organization.

In addition, it is said, the legal climate requires this. Without a code of conduct, faith-based organizations may be forced to hire, or be prevented from firing, people whose behaviour undermines the organization's Christian witness. Given the current legal requirements and, increasingly, less tolerance for an overtly Christian public witness, agencies need a code of conduct to protect their integrity as a Christian organization. In the past, we had the luxury of deciding on philosophical and biblical grounds whether to have a code of conduct and what to put in it. Today, it is suggested, the law and changing public values leave us no choice.

However, adoption of such legalistic le·gal·ism  
1. Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.

2. A legal word, expression, or rule.
 codes of conduct is not without debate. There are also arguments on the other side. Since many Christian agencies face this issue, informed discussion is important.

The question is not whether faith-based organizations and schools can hire Christians committed to upholding the organization's constitution and qualified to meet the job requirements. That is in place now. The conduct policy empowers employers to dismiss employees for moral failings that occur in their private lives outside the workplace even though these do not adversely affect job performance. Those opposed to such codes of conduct raise several concerns.

First, there are practical problems. The legal advice is explicit. For such policies to have legal standing, infractions must be prosecuted rigorously, consistently and evenhandedly e·ven·hand·ed  
Showing no partiality; fair.

. If so, how much lying, swearing, etc., can be tolerated before dismissing someone? The prescribed moral conduct must be a bona fide [Latin, In good faith.] Honest; genuine; actual; authentic; acting without the intention of defrauding.

A bona fide purchaser is one who purchases property for a valuable consideration that is inducement for entering into a contract and without suspicion of being
 occupational requirement. Is refraining from premarital sex a genuine occupational requirement? If it turns out an organization might hesitate to fire people for any of the listed moral failings except homosexual conduct, the whole policy will be deservedly dismissed as being disguised discrimination against homosexuals.

Second, there are biblically based objections. Jesus never accepted or rejected anyone on the basis of outward behaviour. In fact, Jesus' harshest criticism is directed at those who tried to do that. A list of moral behaviour is the wrong yardstick to measure if someone is a true Christian or not. Even if a list were justified, why this list? Are sexual sins more offensive than economic or other sins?

Third, there are philosophical objections. Are employers qualified to specify what moral behaviour is indicative of a sound Christian character? Surely, one's worship and faith community is a more appropriate forum for judging moral failings than one's employer. Are employers entitled to bind the moral consciences of their employees? Is giving employers such authority not an infraction Violation or infringement; breach of a statute, contract, or obligation.

The term infraction is frequently used in reference to the violation of a particular statute for which the penalty is minor, such as a parking infraction.

 of the freedom Christians enjoy in Christ?

Fourth, addressing moral failings by legal rather than pastoral means, and permitting employers to bind the consciences of employees on moral issues, is driven by pragmatic accommodation to current legal requirements and not on the basis of principles. Our mission is to transform culture. If the law forces on us policies more in tune with Pharisaical phar·i·sa·ic   also phar·i·sa·i·cal
1. Pharisaic also Pharisaical Of, relating to, or characteristic of the Pharisees.

2. Hypocritically self-righteous and condemnatory.
 legalism le·gal·ism  
1. Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.

2. A legal word, expression, or rule.
 than with the grace Jesus preached, why should we accommodate the law and suppress Christ's teachings?

A full-orbed Christian world-view frowns on regulating religion to the private sphere. Accommodating the prevailing mind-set of our culture, which happily sees religion as having relevance only for private moral conduct, is to undermine the very purpose for which Christian schools, organizations and agencies exist.

Fifth, in addition to objections of principle, there are also pragmatic considerations. Increasingly, there is less tolerance in our culture for an explicit Christian social witness through confessionally qualified semi-public institutions. Proponents of overtly legalistic codes of conduct see such codes as a defence, a way of preserving their right to be. Just what we need for these times. But is it? Public opinion will be more supportive of attempts to preserve confessional safeguards that are clearly job-related than attempts to regulate private moral conduct.

Finally, some schools and agencies have policies that list a biblical life-style as the expected standard; others describe God's will as an ideal to strive for. But that is different from specifying certain behaviour as a standard that must be attained on pain of dismissal. If the infraction is failing to attain God's will, who can stand? Moral failings require pastoral solutions, not legal remedies.
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Author:Loenen, Nick
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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