An Ontario judge ruled this week that a foster agency violated a Protestant couple’s religious freedom rights when it opted to remove two children from their home and ban them from fostering over their refusal to teach about the Easter Bunny.
Frances and Derek Baars didn’t grow up learning about the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, and didn’t want to lie about the fictional figures to the 3- and 4-year-old sisters in their care. Their convictions, based on Christian beliefs, raised concerns among the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) of Hamilton—which took the children away from the Baars with just a day’s notice, citing the couple’s refusal to respect the girls’ cultural traditions.
As committed members of a small Presbyterian denomination, the Baars assumed there would be instances where their values wouldn’t line up with CAS, a government-approved, secular organization that they knew placed kids with same-sex parents and supported gender transition for youth. But they never anticipated what happened back in 2016.
“If someone had told us then that the Easter Bunny and Santa would team up against us, we would have asked what they were smoking,” Derek Baars said this week in an interview with CT.
Like some in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Baars do not observe Easter and Christmas, keeping only the Sabbath as a holy day. When they became foster parents in December 2015, they altered their celebrations to purchase Christmas gifts for the girls and take them to a family gathering as well as a Sunday school program at another church.
Beyond their own theological views of Christian holidays, “We have a strict ‘no lying’ policy, because God is the God of truth who is Truth, and telling kids that the Easter Bunny and Santa are real is lying,” Frances Baars told CT. They had shared their positions against the Easter Bunny, Santa, and other traditions like Halloween during their training and home study.
Even though the children’s birth mother gave no instructions specifically regarding the Easter Bunny or Santa, CAS staff still brought up Santa with the foster children and urged the Baars to explicitly incorporate the Easter Bunny, specifically “the tradition of the Easter [B]unny bringing chocolate Easter eggs,” according to the court document.
Later, one placement worker, Tracey Lindsay, expressed concern that the Baars would condemn potential gay or lesbian adoptive parents for their girls, though the couple assured her otherwise.
“It seems likely that Lindsay’s discussion regarding prospective same-sex couples to the Baars was fueled by a potential stereotypical belief in the inability of Christians to support same-sex marriage,” wrote Justice Andrew Goodman of the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario.
In a 62-page decision issued Tuesday, Goodman concluded that CAS violated the Baars’s religious protections under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He ordered that the organization update their file to reflect their standing, so that the Baars’s history won’t keep them from future opportunities to adopt or serve as foster parents. (They have since begun the adoption process in another province.)
“Their constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression have been infringed and must be remedied in a manner that is appropriate and just in the circumstances,” Goodman wrote. “The Society didn’t reasonably accommodate the Baars or even attempt to.”
The Reformed Presbyterian couple sought no compensation in the lawsuit, but wanted to ensure fair treatment for fellow Christian couples in Canada seeking to open their homes to children.
“When they told us, ‘You must lie to these children or they would be removed,’ we knew that we were not responsible for the result of doing what’s right, and God would take care of us,” Derek Baars told CT. “He has upheld us.”
“The favorable result has been tremendously encouraging for our brothers and sisters in the Lord,” who had joined them to pray that God would “turn the judge’s heart” as he does with the king’s heart in Proverbs 21:1, Baars said. He noted that the Alliance Defending Freedom, a US-based group advocating religious liberty, sent funds to support the Canadian law firm that represented the couple.
The potential clash between faith protections and LGBT rights has come up in the United States as well; but often the other way around, with religious agencies confronting fear or pressure over their requirements for adoptive or foster parents.
South Carolina’s top foster care agency, Miracle Hill, is currently facing legal backlash involving the Palmetto State’s department of social services for requiring that foster parents share its Christian faith. Last year, Texas and South Dakota passed protections allowing state-funded child welfare agencies to continue to use faith-based restrictions for family placements.
Many adoptive and foster parents are Christian, and it’s less likely for them to face discrimination like the Baars in Canada. “While less overt discrimination cases may occur on occasion in US foster care, it’s not the norm,” according to Kelly Rosati, a former Focus on the Family leader and mom to four kids adopted from foster care.
“I worry that the discrimination fear is used as an excuse not to engage and help these kids who desperately need permanent and loving families,” Rosati told CT, noting that more than 100,000 kids in US foster care are awaiting adoption.
A similar case to the Baars’s took place in 2011 in the United Kingdom, where a judge sided against a potential set of foster parents who said during the application stage that they would not endorse homosexuality to children in their home due to their Pentecostal Christian beliefs. The court ruled that “laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation ‘should take precedence’ over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.”