Canadian Law School Fights in Court to Keep Christian Values on Campus
EspañolReligious and secular principles are once again at loggerheads in Canada, as an evangelical Protestant university is set to appeal a ruling that banned graduates from its yet-to-be-opened law school from practicing in Ontario.
Trinity Western University, located in British Columbia, will contest the ruling before the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, Ontario, on June 4.
The ban, issued by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), centers around the mandatory Community Covenant signed by all Trinity students, which includes a prohibition on same-sex intimacy and marriage.
While the LSUC claims that the covenant violates civil rights, Trinity has responded that preventing its graduates from working because of their beliefs constitutes a violation of religious freedom.
“It’s an overreaction in the extreme to deny evangelical Christians their livelihood in the province of Ontario based on an intolerant and discriminatory assumption of how those students will practice law,” the university’s lawyers said in a preliminary statement to the court.
TWU, located in Langley, Vancouver, requires students who decide to enroll in their programs to sign a commitment to the person and work of Jesus Christ “as declared in the Bible.”
“It is vital that each person who accepts the invitation to become a member of the TWU community carefully considers and sincerely embraces this community covenant,” the university states.
The agreement also forbids other activities such as “gossip,” viewing pornography, using “obscene language,” and drunkenness, among others.
Staley: the only Charter right engaged in this case is the religious rights of #TrinityWestern and it's graduates.
— TWU School of Law (@TWULawSchool) June 1, 2015
“Compelling the law society to accredit TWU would result in discrimination against those who wish to apply to law school but are not able to conduct themselves as required by the community covenant,” reads the factum presented to the Toronto court by LSUC lawyers on Monday.
“For the law society to accredit a law school knowing it had a discriminatory admissions policy, it would jeopardize the public’s confidence in the legal profession,” LSUC added.
Ontario isn’t the only place where the TWU is struggling to get accreditation for its nascent law school. The university is also taking legal action against Nova Scotia and its home province of British Columbia.
In all three cases, the provinces’ respective law societies have not found any academic or professional shortcomings in TWU’s prospective law program, but have argued that the enrollment pledge discriminates against the gay and lesbian community.
Nevertheless, the overarching Federation of Law Societies of Canada has already approved the TWU law course.
Struggle on Three Fronts
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), an NGO that seeks to to defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education, has been granted intervener status in the three court actions in support of TWU.
Scheduled for August 25, the JCCF will be intervening in the Trinity Western University v. Law Society of British Columbia litigation in the province’s Supreme Court.
In January, JCCF’s intervention helped the Supreme Court of Novia Scotia reach a ruling in favor of TWU, citing freedom of association and religion. However, the province’s Barristers Society is bringing the case before the Court of Appeal.
The JCCF argues that the Constitution establishes the right of every Canadian to freedom of association, “including the right of every charity, temple, church, ethnic and cultural association, sports club, and political group to establish its own rules and membership requirements.”
JCCF President John Carpay said that a court ruling against the university freedom of association would undermine this right for other non-religious groups in Canada.
“Tolerance for unpopular groups, practices, and beliefs — not popular ones — is what separates the free society from the totalitarian state. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the view of the majority has no need of constitutional protection, because it is tolerated in any event,” Carpay added.
The legal expert argued that for a free society to remain free, its citizens must accept that others will have radically different beliefs, “including unpopular ideas about sexuality.”
The JCCF is said to submit an oral argument to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on June 4 at 10 a.m.
Trinity Western University, which offers students 42 bachelor degrees and 17 graduate courses, is ranked among Canada’s top universities for “educational experience” by the National Survey of Student Engagement.
Update: 8 a.m. EDT, June 3, 2015.