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Queen's University



Margaret Caldwell, a Roman Catholic,  began teaching at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in 1973.  After five years of satisfactory service at this roman catholic denominational school, Caldwell was dismissed when administration discovered that she had married a divorced man in a civil ceremony.  The cause for dismissal was based on Caldwell's failure to obey two fundamental marital rules of the Catholic Church: 1) Catholics must marry in a Catholic church and  2) Catholics may not marry divorced people. From the point of view of the Catholic school, Caldwell had disregarded a bona fide occupational requirement according to which Catholic teachers must model Catholicism to their students by living in strict accordance with Church doctrines.  Caldwell filed a complaint of discrimination based on marital status, religion and dismissal without probable cause.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled in favour of the school. (Caldwell v. St. Thomas Aquinas High School (1984), 6 C.H.R.R. D/2643)


  1. Is a denominational school considered to have special status under human rights law ?
  2. Is religious conformance a bona fide occupational requirement in a denominational school?


  1. Yes
  2. Yes


  1. Section 22 of the B.C. Human Rights Code privileges the human rights of certain organizations over those of the individual.  "... A charitable, philanthropic, educational, fraternal, religious or social organization or corporation",  whose goal is to promote the welfare of a group characterized by a common ground for discrimination, has special discretionary powers to grant preferences to members of that group. This means that denominational schools have the right to hire catholic teachers over protestant teachers, and the discretion to hire model catholic teachers (those who accept and practice the rulings of the church" (D/2650 et 51) over unruly ones (those who disregard such rulings).
  2. The goals of the Catholic church are to educate students, through the teaching of non-religious subjects; and to indoctrinate them, through the teaching and modeling of Catholicism.  Indoctrination can only be successful if the indoctrinators are credible. Credibility is shattered when the students' role models, the teachers, do not practice what they preach. Catholic teachers must therefore accept and practice the rulings of the church both inside and outside the school.  This principle is stated explicitly in the contract of employment.  Under section 22 of the Code, religious conformance is therefore a bona fide occupational requirement.

Further information on Special Interests Organizations: Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances, s. 8.2

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