In 2017, Byron Hordyk, a self-employed carpenter, and his wife Keira Hordyk, decided that they could open their home to provide foster care to needy children. The Hordyks, who are members of Baldivis Free Reformed Church (FRC) in Australia, applied with Wanslea Family Services, a Perth-based agency that connects families with foster children, among other services.
During the application process, the Hordyks were asked how they would deal with a child who was homosexual, or began to be interested in homosexuality. The couple had made clear that they were interested in providing short-term care to young children under the age of five (since their oldest at that time was about six years old), so this line of questioning seemed a bit out of place. (Some of the questions dealt with how the Hordyks would deal with reports from school about same-sex attraction or gay activity.)
Byron and Keira answered honestly that they would not be able to encourage homosexuality. As Christians, they believe that a gay lifestyle is against the Word of God, and therefore they would not be the best fit long term for a child who persisted in pursuing that way of living. The Hordyks made clear that the agency would not need to immediately remove the child from their home, and that they would still show love and support to such a boy or girl while in their care.
Ultimately, Wanslea Family Services rejected the Hordyks’ application in 2019, marking their case file as “assessed not to meet competencies” (although they were earlier judged to be suitable to become foster parents). Despite the fact that there is an enormous shortage of families willing to provide foster care in Western Australia, the agency did not believe that the Hordyks were fit to give a home to needy children, simply because of their Christian view of homosexuality.
Disappointed, Byron and Keira sought legal advice from John Steenhof, a lawyer and fellow FRC member. Steenhof saw the potential importance of the case for religious liberty and against religious discrimination, and took on the case pro bono. (Steenhof at the time was working in private practice, and has since gone on to join the Human Rights Law Alliance.) He recommended that the Hordyks challenge Wanslea Family Services’ rejection as discrimination under Western Australia’s Equal Opportunities Act. The Act states that it is unlawful for a person who provides services to discriminate against another person on the basis of their religious or political conviction.
Giving testimony to the Tribunal along with the Hordyks was Rev. Wes Bredenhof, frequent contributor to Reformed Perspective. Bredenhof provided an extensive written background of the Free Reformed Churches, showing that the Hordyks’ belief that homosexuality is sinful has long been a shared stance of confessional churches that take the Word of God seriously, such as the FRC.
This past December, over five years after the Hordyks’ initial application, the State Administrative Tribunal ruled in their favor, deciding that Wanslea Family Services had treated the Hordyks unfairly, and awarding them damages of $3,000 each. Many news agencies including ABC News in the US, and newspapers all across Australia covered the court case, often with an antagonism to God’s warning against homosexuality.
Lawyer Steenhof believes the case is an important one for religious freedom and against discrimination. He wrote that:
“this landmark case demonstrates how societal hostility to religion – and especially Christianity – is increasing, especially within our institutions. 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.”
After five years in this process, the Hordyks are eager to put this chapter of their lives into the past. They have gone on to have two more children, and are not likely to re-apply to become foster parents, since they would have to start all over again, and their personal circumstances have changed. Through discrimination against Christianity, Wanslea Family Services has removed from the pool of potential foster homes a family that could have provided loving care for kids in their community. Christians may hope that the Hordyks’ perseverance in this case, and the hard work of their legal advisor Steenhof and others, may result in more fair treatment for potential foster families in the future.
The Lord has not promised us an easy road here on this earth, but Christians in the western world have become accustomed to relative freedom to hold to the timeless truths of the Bible. We are seeing more and more that the world is rejecting God’s truths, and wants to outlaw speech and thought that calls sin what it is. May the Lord provide courage to us all to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet doing so with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Court decision “a welcome dose of balance and common sense”
by John Steenhof
The recent decision by the State Administrative Tribunal that Byron and Keira Hordyk were discriminated against because of their religious views is a landmark case that demonstrates how societal hostility to religion – and especially Christianity – is increasing, especially within our institutions.
As supported by expert evidence in the case, the Hordyks’ beliefs on marriage were consistent with those held by almost all branches of the Christian faith up until the sexual revolution of the mid-20th century, “that marriage is a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman; all extra marital sexuality is contrary to the Bible. Homosexual lusts and behaviors are contrary to the Bible and that there are two fixed genders or sexes, namely male or female.”
Wanslea Family Services considered the Hordyks’ views unacceptable. This is increasingly common in many Australian institutions. The Hordyks were rejected as potential foster parents not because they were unsuitable to provide a temporary home for vulnerable toddlers, but because they held unacceptable religious views.
The Hordyks are not alone in falling afoul of these institutional purity tests. In 2022, Andrew Thorburn at the Essendon Australian Rules Football Club was forced to resign because he held the wrong views. In 2021, the Australian Christian Lobby had venue bookings cancelled by the Western Australian government because their Christian beliefs were inconsistent with “diversity, equality and inclusion.”
This increasing animosity to religion can be attributed to a variety of factors: the increasing secularization of Australian society generally, the irresponsible and hostile reporting of religious issues in the media, the ascendancy and triumph of LGBTQ dogma in Australian culture, the hard fusion in popular discourse of Christianity with the evils of colonialism, and the fragmentation and polarization of civil dialogue in a social media age.
Whatever the causes, these cultural trends should be of concern to all Australians. While heteronormative 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.
The recent Essendon public apology to Andrew Thorburn, and the Hordyk decision are a welcome dose of balance and common sense in an otherwise fevered cultural environment.
The tenacity of the Hordyks in seeking vindication through a grueling 5-year process demonstrates that there is value in pushing matters to the Courts past the loud cultural voices that have captured many of Australia’s institutions and which have declared Christianity anathema and unsafe.
A pluralistic and multicultural society 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 Australians must be given a fair go.
John Steenhof is the Principal Lawyer at Human Rights Law Alliance (HRLA), founded in 2019 to “provide assistance, advice and advocacy to ordinary Australians under attack for living out their faith and convictions in public.” John and his wife Lana have six children between the ages of 6 and 19, and now live in Canberra, Australia’s capital, where they attend Southside Bible Church, a Reformed evangelical church.