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Praise for WA couple’s religious discrimination win

Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn Rodrigues is a journalist for The Catholic Weekly. She also writes at marilynrodrigues.com. Email her at [email protected]

Perth couple Byron and Keira Hordyk hope that their five-year religious discrimination battle against a foster care agency will give hope to all Christians who strive to live by and promote basic Christian beliefs and values.

On 23 December the Hordyks won their case against Wanslea Family Services, which had deemed them unsuitable as short-term or emergency carers of children aged 0-5 because they could not affirm LGBTQ values.

Byron and Keira Hordyk: the WA couple fought discrimination against Christians in their foster care case – and won. Advocates have hailed the State Administrative Tribunal decision in their case as extremely significant. Photo: Keira Hordyk

Mrs Hordyk told The Catholic Weekly it had been a shock to find themselves thrust into the media spotlight when their anti-discrimination case went before the tribunal in 2020.

“We’d become aware of sad things about children living in situations that are not great, and we had a stable relationship and two children and a bit of free time … and thought we could easily care for a child even if just for a day to kind of help out,” she said.

“That’s where it all came from. At the time our application was rejected I was upset and I didn’t think it was right either.”

The State Administrative Tribunal in Western Australia found that Wanslea discriminated against the Hordyks on the grounds of their religious conviction and awarded them each damages of $3000. It also ordered that their records show that the couple’s application process was discontinued rather than that they failed their assessment.

The couple, members of the Free Reformed Church of Australia which adheres to biblical teaching on sexuality, commenced their case in 2017 after Wanslea terminated their foster care application on the basis that the Hordyks’ religious beliefs would mean that they could not maintain a physically and/or emotionally safe environment for a foster child who identified as LGBTQ.

John Steenhof, head of the Hordyks’ legal team at the Human Rights Law Alliance, told The Catholic Weekly he was “extremely pleased” that the case was successful.

“The couple are ordinary Australians who were treated badly purely because of their traditional Christian beliefs about sexuality,” he said. “This is a wonderful couple who would be great foster carers and they were told that they were unsafe because they didn’t affirm homosexuality,” he said.

“To exclude the Hordyks is to deprive needy children of a safe home and a loving caring and stable environment. This case has implications for all orthodox Christians who feel called to help relieve some of the overwhelming problems with an overburdened child protection system.

“Christians gave the West its adoption agencies and the earliest forms of welfare for needy children. They shouldn’t now be excluded from being able to help children in need because of their orthodox Christian faith.”

Expert witness for the Hordyks, Dr Wesley Bredenhof, minister of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston in Tasmania which is a branch of the church the couple belong to, told the tribunal that its teaching is “within the historic Christian consensus on sexual ethics”.

“The couple are ordinary Australians who were treated badly purely because of their traditional Christian beliefs about sexuality” – John Steenhof

Mr Steenhof said the agency ran an aggressive defence but the tribunal found that there was clear bias and discrimination against them because of their beliefs.

“This is a great result for all Christians who hold traditional views on marriage and sexuality and might feel called to adopt or foster a child. It is a push back against an increasingly hostile society that seeks to marginalise traditional Christians.

“The Hordyk decision reinforces the fact that Christian beliefs don’t make Christians unsafe to foster kids.” Mrs Hordyk said she felt very thankful for all the support they received from family, friends, their church community and all who assisted them with their case.

“We feel very blessed and have been very overwhelmed at times by all the people who have helped us and been praying for us,” she said. “Without that support we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did and we wouldn’t have been be brave enough to go through it either. There’s been a lot of negativity towards us as well but we’re trying to ignore that and just focus on the good.”

John Steenhof. Photo: Supplied

She added that she thought their win will give hope to Christians who live by their faith’s convictions, that their beliefs “still mean something” in society generally.

Peter Abetz, director of the WA branch of the Australian Christian Lobby, also praised the “great outcome”.

“The Hordyks are not radicals or anything like that, they just hold to traditional Christian beliefs, as I do,” he said. “This sends a clear message that organisations can’t get away with blatant discrimination against people who hold traditional Christian beliefs.”

Mr Steenhof said the case highlighted how even though orthodox Christian beliefs on sexuality and identity are increasingly becoming unpopular, Christians cannot be treated unfairly because they hold what are deemed to be the “wrong views.”

“There needs to be reasonable accommodation for differing points of view in a pluralistic Australian society.”

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