Canadian Christians say they can’t apply for a federal job funding program called the Canada Summer Jobs program because it would require them to voice support for abortion, the Ottawa Citizen reported.
What is the Canada Summer Jobs program?
According to the Canadian government, the program provides funding to some nonprofits, public sector employers and small business so they can offer summer jobs to students. The Citizen reported the program subsidizes about 70,000 jobs with $113 million each year.
However, the government says CSJ applicants “will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”
These rights are listed as “reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
The clause states that “reproductive rights” includes “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
The document states that such rules will “prevent Government of Canada funding from flowing to organization whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights, the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law” and will “prevent youth (as young as 15 years of age) from being exposed to employment within organizations that may promote positions that are contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law.”
What are Christians saying?
The clause — referred to as “the attestation” — quickly came under fire by churches and Christian organizations who said that although the program purports to prohibit discrimination based on religion, they cannot participate due to their beliefs about the sanctity of human life.
According to the Citizen, the Rev. Tim Moyle oversees three small Catholic parishes in the Upper Ottawa Valley with the help of one secretary. He said he utilizes the Canada Summer Jobs program to hire students to help with maintenance work such as maintaining the parishes’ lawns and digitizing baptismal records going back as far as the 1800s.
“We’re giving some kids going to college a chance for a job. Not a lot of work up here,” Moyle told the Ottawa Citizen, adding that students are paid $15 an hour for four-month stints.
Moyle said he and his pro-life Catholic church can’t participate in the program this year due to the abortion clause and what he sees as its attack on religious liberty.
“The government says ‘Oh you can apply as a church. That’s not a problem.’ But we would have to compromise what we believe by making this attestation.”
He called the attestation “disconcerting” and said it was a violation of religious liberty and an attempt at “thought control” by the government.
“The government is telling us what is the right way and the wrong way to think or to believe,” Moyle said. “That’s contrary to Catholic teaching and contrary to my understanding of my rights as a citizen in Canada.”
Brad Jones, the pastor at Woodgreen Presbyterian Church in Calgary, told the National Post, “As a small Christian church that was planning to apply for the Canada Summer Jobs program to offer a summer internship, the recent changes have been quite a shock and disappointment.”
Jones said his church has sponsored three Syrian refugees and maintains a free “English-as-a-second-language cafe” for the community.
“And yet, because of our commitment to the sanctity of life and to biblical teachings, our government is discriminating against us,” he said. “The very groups that the Liberal government claims to care about — students, refugees, children and people in need — will all lose because of these changes.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the clause and said it is considering its next steps to address it.
“In addition to the obvious and unfortunate infringement of the freedom of conscience and religion in such matters as are raised by the new policy, there will be unfortunate consequences on the ground,” the group said in a statement.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada told the National Post that it has heard from 160 churches and organizations so far who have expressed concerns about the attestation.
“The wording of the attestation is either very ambiguous and it needs to be clarified, or it’s completely unambiguous and it needs to be changed,” Julia Beazley, the EFC’s director of public policy, told the National Post. “The end result, whatever the intent may or may not have been, is that those who can’t check off that attestation are being denied equal access to a public benefit solely because of their religious belief.”
What did the Canadian government say?
Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s office told the Ottawa Citizen, “There is a difference between an applicant’s beliefs and an applicant’s core mandate for the job funding. The fact that an organization is affiliated with a religion (which may hold a range of views, beliefs or values) does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program.”
However, that explanation did not satisfy many of the churches and organizations that expressed qualms about the clause.
“It’s not something we as a Catholic organization can sign,” Moyle said.
The Citizen noted that after pro-life groups successfully sued the government in 2017 after being denied funds from the summer job program, officials tweaked the program to make pro-life groups ineligible in 2018.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently made headlines for calling groups that oppose abortion “not in line” with his government and Canadian society.