Faith-based organizations in Canada are welcoming changes to the federal government’s summer jobs program that remove language interpreted by many to require support for abortion.
“It’s encouraging to see that the government has heard and responded to our concerns,” said Julia Beazley, director of policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
The change is “an admission that last year was clearly a violation of freedom of speech and religion,” said Ray Pennings, executive vice president of Cardus, a nonpartisan faith-based think tank.
The change is a retreat for the ruling Liberal Party, which set off a firestorm in late 2017 by adding a new stipulation to the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs Grant application form.
In order to get funding from the program, which provides financial assistance to nonprofits and businesses that want to hire summer students, groups had to check a box attesting that their “core mandates” respected, among other things, “sexual and reproductive rights and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
Many faith groups protested, saying the attestation violated their right of freedom of belief, and their freedom of expression under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The government tried to clarify its reason for the change, saying it welcomed participation by all religious groups. But about 1,500 faith groups and businesses that submitted applications without agreeing to the attestation were rejected. An unknown number of groups didn’t apply at all.
The issue also prompted at least nine court challenges from church groups and private businesses.
Although the government initially defended the change, the office of Employment Minister Patty Hajdu initiated behind-the-scenes meetings with several key evangelical and Catholic groups this fall in an effort to address their concerns.
The result is a new application form for 2019 that drops the reference to core mandates and instead focuses on activities that are ineligible for funding.
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Source: Religion News Service