ONTARIO — A Superior Court judge in Canada has ruled in favor of a Christian couple who lost their foster children, and were prevented from caring for other children, after refusing to lie by claiming that the Easter Bunny was delivering candy to their home.
Derek and Frances Baars are Reformed Presbyterians and began fostering two girls, ages three and five, in December 2015. However, shortly after the girls were placed in their home, concerns were raised by the Children’s Aid Society that the couple was not going to play Santa Claus and Easter Bunny with the children.
The Baars, who according to legal documents, do not celebrate Christmas or Easter at all, said that they were willing to buy the girls gifts and give them candy if the biological parents expected them to do so, but would not tell the children that the goodies were from Santa or the Easter Bunny.
Notes had been written in the home study in regard to the couple’s religious beliefs prior to the arrangement. The Baars also advised that they would not bring up the subject to the girls at all as they believe that all lying is “morally wrong.”
However, the Society soon decided to remove the children from the Baars’ custody, concluding that the couple was “not prepared to support the agency position and support the needs of the children.” Their foster home was also considered closed altogether and appeals were futile.
Therefore, the couple took the Society to court, which argued that the children were not removed because of the Baars’ beliefs about the Easter Bunny, but because of “concerns regarding the Baars’ unwillingness to be flexible and support the beliefs of the children and their inability to support the Society’s position and authority as ultimate decision-maker.” The Society also contended that they never asked the Baars to lie.
However, in his ruling on Tuesday, Justice Andrew Goodman concluded that “[t]here is ample evidence to support the fact that the children were removed because the Baars refused to either tell or imply that the Easter Bunny was delivering chocolate to the Baars’ home.”
He also found that the “Society’s actions interfered substantially with the Baars’ religious beliefs.”
“It appears that the Society would not be satisfied with anything other than confirmation from the Baars that they would lie about the Easter Bunny. I am persuaded that it was impossible for the Baars to meet the Society’s demands without acting contrary to their religious beliefs,” Goodman wrote. “[R]eligious freedom means that ‘no one is to be forced to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience.'”
He said that the children could have celebrated Easter with other children, or at their biological parents’ home, as had been done at Christmastime. The judge further noted that Mrs. Baars had requested that instead of closing their foster home, they be considered for newborns or children whose parents did not teach them about Santa or the Easter Bunny.
“Francis’ overture was entirely practical and reasonable. The Society has not explained why it was unreasonable to grant the Baars’ request,” Goodman wrote. “Despite advising the Baars to write their concerns in a letter, the Society did not even have the courtesy to respond to Francis’ letter. The Society’s actions to shut the foster home were entirely arbitrary and without justification.”
“[I]t is [therefore] ordered that the Society note in the applicants’ file that the decision to close the Baars’ foster home violated the applicants’ Charter rights in accordance with this judgment,” he concluded. “In respect of the applicants’ prospective desire to be adoptive or foster parents, should there be an inquiry to the Society into the Baars’ suitability by any other organization entrusted with the statutory care of children, the Society shall fully apprise that agency about this ruling.”
The Society has since issued a statement of apology in regard to the situation.
“We recognize what our mistakes were,” Executive Director Dominic Verticchio told the National Post. “We respect the decision of the court … and we have to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
“I apologize for what the foster parents went through. I can’t change the past,” he said, “but I can change the future.”