British Columbia

Member of reclusive church can't get out of joining crossing guard union, B.C. labour board says

A B.C. congregant of a church that doesn't allow socializing with non-members has been told his religious views don't exempt him from joining a union for crossing guards.

Plymouth Brethren Christian Church prevents socializing with non-members, frowns on TV and radio

An Abbotsford crossing guard applied for an exemption from joining the local Teamsters union, arguing it would conflict with his beliefs as a member of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. (CBC)

A B.C. congregant of a church that doesn't allow socializing with non-members has been told his religious views don't exempt him from joining a union for crossing guards.

Last month, the B.C. Labour Relations Board heard an application from an Abbotsford man who wanted to be excused from joining the local Teamsters, offering instead to pay the equivalent of his union dues to charity.

The crossing guard for the Abbotsford School District is a member of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, an evangelical sect with branches around the world. The church has strict rules governing the daily lives of its members, and a representative wrote a letter to the labour board on the crossing guard's behalf.

"It is our religious conviction that we cannot join or financially support an employee's union. This request ... is not based on any hard feelings toward any individual or to the Labour organization. Rather, it is based on principles that we have found in God's Word and as upheld by our church," the letter reads.

It's quoted in a Jan. 29 decision from the labour board rejecting the application for exemption.

B.C.'s Labour Code provides an exemption from union membership to people who successfully argue their religious beliefs preclude them from belonging.

But in this case, board vice chair David Duncan Chesman said the case hadn't been proven.

"As the beliefs or 'conviction' of the church upon which the application relies have not been particularized or identified and as no explanation of their incompatibility with trade unionism has been provided, I am not satisfied that such beliefs are incompatible with trade unionism," wrote.

Church espouses 'doctrine of separation'

The crossing guard may not have spelled out his religious beliefs in his application, but the practices of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church are detailed on its website.

Members of the Plymouth Brethren abide by a "doctrine of separation" that governs their relationships with the rest of the world.

They do not listen to the radio or watch TV, except in school settings, and only use the internet with filters in place, fearing the "corrupting or damaging" effects of mass media, according to the church website.

There's also no socializing with anyone who doesn't belong to the church.

"We make a commitment to eat and drink in social fellowship only with those with whom we would celebrate the Lord's Supper — that is the basis of our fellowship," the church website says.

"This does not mean that we hold ourselves as superior to our fellow men, women and children. We live and work harmoniously alongside them, in the mainstream of society."

The Labour Relations Board has granted requests for religious exemption in the past to applicants including Seventh Day Adventists and members of Canadian Reformed Churches.

Successful applicants have cited beliefs that trade union membership would violate promises to follow God's word — as opposed to instructions of union officials.

With files from Jason Proctor