Wanslea Family Services, the foster care agency that was found to have unlawfully discriminated against Christian couple Byron and Kiera Hordyk on the basis of their religious beliefs, has decided not to appeal the decision of the Western Australian State Administrative Tribunal.
This is a significant win for religious freedom, as well as for the Hordyk family personally, who will not need to expend further time and resources on defending the decision on appeal. This ends what has been a lengthy and uncertain legal process for their family over a number of years.
The judgment as it stands is significant because it establishes a test to determine what constitutes “religious conviction”, namely that it is genuinely and sincerely held. This means it is not up to a court or other decision maker to determine whether a Christian’s beliefs are a “religious conviction” worthy of protection by anti-discrimination laws.
This decision also sheds light on some of the tactics used against Christians in cases of religious discrimination, which were firmly rejected by the Tribunal in this case.
For example, Wanslea argued that the Hordyks’ views on homosexuality were not actually based on their religious views, but rather were a result instead of the “rigidity” of their views. In other words, the Hordyks were accused of “masking” their discriminatory views by calling them religious convictions.
The Tribunal rejected this argument:
“...we reject Wanslea’s submission for the following additional reasons. First, it was never put to the Hordyks in cross-examination that their ‘rigidity’ was the result of something other than their religious beliefs. Second, the documentary evidence established that Wanslea’s witnesses accepted that the response the Hordyks gave to the Case Study reflected their religious beliefs. In our view, it was disingenuous of Wanslea to try to cast a different light upon the conduct of its staff by describing the Hordyks’ response as evidence of ‘rigidity’.” (at para 305).
In addition, the Tribunal also found that some of the arguments put forward by the opposing side were disingenuous, including their claims that Wanslea and its decision-makers were “neutral” on the topic of SOGI (“sexual orientation and gender ideology”) and LGBTQI+ issues:
“[the] evidence that Wanslea had no views on SOGI or LGBTQI+ issues was at odds, with the evidence to which we have referred above, which we find clearly established that Wanslea had a very clear view about the validity of all sexual orientations and gender identities” (at para 318).
The decision by Wanslea not to appeal the Tribunal’s decision brings to a close the lengthy legal process that commenced in 2017 when the couple first applied to become foster parents.
The courage of the Hordyks in challenging the unlawful treatment they received at the hands of the foster care agency is to be commended. The decision now provides authority for the importance of respecting religious views and convictions, and will benefit Christians in the future, whose sincerely held religious convictions will need to now be recognised and respected by the law.
It also again highlights the need for greater legislative protection of religious freedom at a national level.
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