Toronto, ON December 11, 2020 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), in a joint intervention with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), provided written submissions in respect of the December 9 appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on the issue of religious freedom for religious voluntary associations.
In Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Canada St. Mary Cathedral, et al. v. Teshome Aga, et al, five congregants at the cathedral parish brought an action against the Church and Archbishop Dimetros, over his decision to impose a pastoral disciplinary decision upon several individuals who were seen as engaging in unorthodox liturgy.
Background: an investigation committee was formed to review and assess actions to address allegations of heresy. Archbishop Dimetros imposed less stringent discipline. Five congregants took exception, and sought a more aggressive determination, that the individuals be treated more severely. These individuals were warned that steps would be taken to expel them from the congregation if they did not cease expressing dissatisfaction. Following a later meeting at the parish, where harsh words were expressed about the Archbishop and the church leadership, the five individuals were suspended from membership and expelled from the cathedral parish. (They continued to attend other parishes of the diocese.)
They commenced an action, which sought to have themselves reinstated, and to impose the findings of the investigative committee imposed rather than the Archbishop’s decision. The Church was successful in a motion to have the actions dismissed for failing to establish a legal basis for the claim. The court also found that the relief requested was non-justiciable.
The Ontario Court of Appeal granted an appeal, set aside the summary judgment dismissing the action, and returned the action to the Superior Court of Justice for trial, by finding that the Church’s constating documents (constitution and by-laws), together with a membership application and commitment to financially support the church established a contract, from which procedural fairness could be reviewed.
Philip Horgan argued the case for the Appellant Church, the Archbishop and its head priests, together with Raphael Fernandes. The broadcast of the SCC hearing can be accessed here. (The appeal was heard via Zoom, owing to the cancellation of in person hearings at the Supreme Court.)
The CCRL argued that civil society requires a healthy respect for religious freedom, and that ecclesiastical decisions of religious communities cannot be the subject of state intervention. Decisions on liturgy, ministry, sacraments, or discipline should not be the subject of court oversight, given our constitutional matrix. Church history abounds with measures to codify and engage in rules, such as with the Code of Canon Law in the Roman Catholic tradition. The court should continue to avoid being an arbiter of religious doctrine. The League thanks Albertos Polizogopoulos for his work on our submissions.
The decision of the court was reserved. A decision will be released in 2021.
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About the CCRL
Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
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