A Christian couple whose foster home was shut down for refusing to teach children that the Easter Bunny is real have been vindicated by a court in Canada.
Derek and Francis Baars had been approved to run a foster home by the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, Ontario, when social workers took action because the couple declined to tell foster children that the Easter Bunny was real and delivering chocolate eggs to their home.
They went to court seeking a declaration that the society violated their constitutional religious-freedom rights. The judge in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, A.J. Goodman, granted their request, ruling the society “could have accommodated the Baars’ beliefs without removing the children.”
The judge ordered that any discussion by the society about their qualifications include his opinion that their rights were violated.
The judge pointed out that the Baars had proposed a satisfactory alternative to society demands that they teach the children, two young sisters who had been put in their care temporarily, that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were real.
The judge quoted from the foster mother’s letter to social workers in which she explained her effort to accommodate the parents’ wishes regarding the celebration of Easter, including proposing that they spend the holiday at another home.
“In February you contacted us regarding how we were planning to celebrate Easter with the children. Though we normally don’t celebrate Easter, we agreed to give the children chocolate, hide candies and get them Easter outfits,” she wrote. “We also made clear that though we would not lie to the children by telling them that the Easter Bunny is real, neither would we say he was not real in order to respect the parent’s wishes. When this was not thought to be enough, we agreed that if CAS so desired, we were willing to have them placed in a relief home for Easter weekend to allow them to celebrate according to CAS’s wishes.”
The social services agency, nevertheless, ordered the removal of the children from the Baars’ foster home on only a single day’s notice, further traumatizing the children, the judge said.
The judge found: “In my view, the proposal to have the children stay briefly at a different home was a reasonable one. The children in in fact go on relief to another foster home while the Baars were away in Calgary from February 12-23, 2016. There is no evidence that a temporary transfer would have resulted in hardship for either the society or the children.”
Or, he pointed out, the girls could have spent Easter with their biological mother, as they did Christmas to celebrate “Santa.”
The couple had told social workers during the process in which they were approved for foster care that they did not lie to children about the Easter Bunny and Santa.
Social worker Tracey Lindsay was integral in the removal of the children from the Baars and the order that they be excluded from foster care services.
The opinion quote from the Baars again: “When we were told the girls would be removed from our home and our home closed, we requested that our home might remain open for infants, since they would not care about Santa or the Easter Bunny. Additionally, we expressed willingness to provide foster care for Christian families who did not want their children involved in those cultural practices, but Ms. Lindsay refused all our desires and proceeded to close our home.”
The judge said such suggestions were “entirely practical and reasonable.”
And, the ruling pointed out, “the society has not explained why it was unreasonable to grant the Baars’ request. Not then and not before me.”
The closure decision, the opinion said, was “entirely arbitrary and without justification.”
Consequently, the couple’s constitutional protections were violated.
“I find that the respondent has breached the applicants’ Charter rights,” the judge ruled, granting the couple’s request.
The society had argued there was no evidence its officials violated the Baars’ religious rights, insisting it closed the foster home because of “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.”
In its letter closing the home, the society charged the Baars “were not in agreement with supporting the parent’s wishes for the children’s care.”
But the ruling found, “Nothing can be further from the truth.”
Lindsay, in fact, told the couple it was unacceptable to tell children that the Easter Bunny did not visit their home, and her own affidavit “undermines her assertion that she never asked the Baars to act contrary to their religion,” the ruling said.
The Christian Institute spoke with Frances Baars after the decision.
“We are very thankful for it, that we’ve been vindicated. Our names have been cleared and we don’t have that hanging over us anymore,” she said.
A spokesman for the Hamilton CAS said, “I apologize for what the foster parents went through.”
The ruling means the couple can return to foster and adoption programs again.
In a commentary at Canada’s Global News, Andrew Lawton wrote: “Not wanting to make your kids believe in the Easter Bunny doesn’t disqualify you from being a parent, after all.”
He said the “only relevant questions should have been whether the Baarses were able and willing to care for these girls, and provide a home for them.”
“They exceeded all requirements in the application process, and it’s worth noting that their faith beliefs – including their beliefs about the Easter Bunny – were known to the agency when they were approved to run a foster home.”
He continued: “Though the court’s ruling on this case is encouraging, it still concerns me that a CAS worker can act on an inkling to ‘protect’ children from something as benign as not believing in stories they’ll outgrow in a few years, regardless. Would CAS have expected Jewish or Muslim foster parents – who don’t believe in or celebrate Christmas or Easter at all – to set up a Christmas tree and lay out Easter eggs? Are certain religious belief systems off-limits for foster parents entirely?”