Court Win for Christian Foster Care Applicants.

In 2017, West Australian couple Byron and Keira Hordyk were rejected as ‘unsafe’ by fostering agency, Wanslea Family Services, to provide foster care to vulnerable infants and toddlers in the child protection system. Their application was rejected because of their traditional Christian views on marriage and sex. Five years later, the Hordyks have won their legal case against Wanslea and been awarded damages. The WA State Administrative Tribunal found that Wanslea had treated the Hordyks unfairly on the basis of their religious beliefs. This decision is good for all Australians. The Hordyk decision is a victory for common sense and provides an antidote to the polarised public discourse in Australian culture. While the Hordyks are deservedly vindicated by this decision, the real losers in this case are vulnerable children who were robbed of the opportunity to be placed in a loving, caring, and stable home.

This landmark case demonstrates how societal hostility to religion, and especially Christianity, is increasing and is a threat to common sense pluralism. Christians who established, grew, and then gave to Western cultures their key social institutions such as hospitals, universities, aged care facilities, and foster care agencies are now facing increasing exclusion from those very institutions. In its decision, the Tribunal firmly rebuffed Wanslea’s assertions that their rejection of the Hordyks had nothing to do with their religious beliefs. The evidence showed that Wanslea takes a flexible approach to approving carers who are smokers and can’t foster babies, carers with disabilities, or unique home circumstances that made them unsuitable for certain types of children. However, when Wanslea was faced with conservative Christians, it changed the rules. The Hordyks hold to the views of their Church on sex and morality.

Wanslea considered the Hordyks’ views unacceptable and rejected their fostering application, not because they were unsuitable to provide a temporary home for vulnerable toddlers, but because they held unacceptable religious views now out of step with the prevailing Australian cultural norms. This is increasingly common with many Australian institutions. The Tribunal found that key Wanslea evidence on this point was ‘avoidant, defensive and crafted to cast events in the most favourable light for Wansela’. There was religious discrimination which they attempted to cover up as ‘business as usual’. The Hordyks are not alone in falling afoul of such ideological purity tests. In 2022, Andrew Thorburn at the Essendon AFL club was forced to resign because he held the wrong views. In 2021, the Australian Christian Lobby had venue bookings cancelled by the WA government because their Christian beliefs were inconsistent with ‘diversity, equality, and inclusion’.

In 2020, the WA government also refused to give Pastor Margaret Court’s Perth charity the funding needed for a freezer truck to distribute food to the needy because of her publicly stated views on marriage. This increasing animosity to religion can be attributed to a variety of potential factors: the increasing secularisation of Australian society generally, the simplistic and sensational reporting of religious issues in the media, the ascendancy and triumph of LGBTQ+ advocacy in Australian culture, the hard fusion in popular discourse of Christianity with the evils of colonialism or the fragmentation and polarisation of cultural dialogue in a social media age. Whatever the causes, these cultural trends should be of concern to all Australians. While Christians are the target today, there is no reason why this cultural trajectory will not progress to declare other social and political convictions as anathema and beyond the pale, both religious and irreligious.

The Hordyk decision are a welcome dose of balance and common sense in an otherwise febrile cultural environment. The tenacity of the Hordyks in seeking vindication through a gruelling 5-year process demonstrates that there is value in pushing matters to Courts past the loud cultural voices that have captured many of Australia’s institutions and which have declared Christianity anathema and unsafe. These voices seek to impose a narrow secular vision of Australia rather than a pluralistic multicultural vision of Australia. For Australia to flourish, it requires the participation of a variety of people with diverse and conflicting religious beliefs, political convictions, and personal opinions. The friction lines between competing views will often be difficult to adjudicate, but the Courts have shown that, regardless of the prevailing ideological fashions of the day, religious and even heteronormative Christian Australians must be given a fair go.

John Steenhof, principal lawyer of the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), who defended the Hordyks said “When the HRLA has a win, we all have a win. That’s exactly what happened when Byron and Keira Hordyk were finally vindicated after their five-year ordeal. The WA State Tribunal found that the couple were unlawfully discriminated against. This landmark decision is a win for Christian foster care applicants and a victory for common sense and a fair go. Hostility towards Christianity is increasing right across Australia and is a serious threat to common sense pluralism. For Australia to flourish, it requires the participation of a true diversity of belief, opinions and cultures, but unless everyone gets a fair go, we will not thrive and reach our full potential. The Hordyk decision sets a standard that can’t be ignored. Religious Australians must be given a fair go, and the HRLA will continue to fight to make certain they do.

Source: Compiled by APN from reports obtained from various sources.

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