After a pair of 7–2 rulings on Friday by the Supreme Court of Canada, the law societies of Ontario and British Columbia are now permitted to deny Trinity Western University]s (TWU) proposed law school accreditation because of its Christian standards of morality outlined in its community covenant.
“As a Christian institution, Trinity Western requires students and faculty to abide by biblical boundaries on sexual behavior,” WND reported. “The covenant also requires students to abstain from, among other things, obscene language, harassment, lying, stealing, pornography and drunkenness.”
LGBT has rights, not Christians …
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International allied attorney Gerald Chipeur – whose Canadian firm, Miller Thompson LLP, represented TWU in the lawsuits – argued that the decision clearly discriminates against Christians and violates their religious freedom guaranteed to all Canadians.
“[Canada’s highest court] has abandoned the promise of freedom that led to the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 36 years ago,” Chipeur contended, according to WND. “Individuals will need to turn to their legislators to protect freedom of religion.”
LGBT advocates of the two law societies that denied TWU accreditation argue that the proposed law school’s Christian code of conduct discriminates against members of the homosexual community, but six other Canadian law societies had no problem with Trinity upholding its biblical standards of morality.
“The British Columbia and Ontario law societies claimed the covenant was discriminatory – particularly against gay and lesbian students – and refused to accredit the school,” WND’s Bob Unruh reported. “The law societies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon and Nova Scotia agreed to recognize the school’s graduates.”
As a global alliance of thousands of Christian attorneys, ADF International recognized the serious nature of the decision.
“[The Supreme Court of Canada] dealt a major blow to religious freedom and freedom of association,” the legal group announced in a statement, according to WND.
ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman contended that the high court’s ruling essentially strips faith-based academic institutions of their right to be run according to their religious beliefs.
“[Religious universities and schools] should be free to operate according to the faith they teach and to which they adhere,” Coleman insisted, according to the WND report. “We are deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. Freedom of religion and association is not only essential for faith-based organizations, but for the functioning of democracy itself. Following this ruling, that vital freedom is now in jeopardy.”
LGBT rights trump religious freedom?
Canadian Supreme Court Justices Russell Brown and Suzanne Côté were in the minority in the 7–2 ruling, arguing that TWU should not be refused accreditation because it practices a code of conduct this is protected by Canadian law.
“Legislatively accommodated and Charter-protected religious practices, once exercised, cannot be cited by a state-actor as a reason justifying the exclusion of a religious community from public recognition,” Brown and Côté wrote in their dissent, according to WND. “[Approval of TWU’s proposed law school] would not represent a state preference for evangelical Christianity, but rather a recognition of the state’s duty – which [the Law Society of British Columbia] failed to observe – to accommodate diverse religious beliefs without scrutinizing their content.”
However, the judges ruling against TWU saw things differently, maintaining that the two law societies can legally discriminate against Christians and thus refuse accreditation based on its religious code of conduct.
"[I]t is inimical to the integrity of the legal profession to limit access on the basis of personal characteristics," the five justices wrote in their decision, according to the Canadian Press. "This is especially so in light of the societal trust enjoyed by the legal profession. The reality is that most LGBTQ individuals will be deterred from attending TWU's proposed law school, and those who do attend will be at the risk of significant harm."
When rendering their decision for the law society of British Columbia, the five justices were a bit stronger in their anti-Christian, pro-LGBT argument.
“In the decision concerning B.C., the same five justices said being required by someone else's religious beliefs to behave contrary to one's sexual identity is ‘degrading and disrespectful’ and ‘offends the public perception that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion,’" the Canadian Press’ Jim Bronskill informed.
As one of the co-authors of the law school’s proposal, TWU professor Janet Epp Buckingham was disappointed over the high court’s decision.
"This is something that has been a dream of mine for 25 years," Buckingham expressed to reporters in the Supreme Court building’s foyer, according to the Canadian Press. "We will not be starting a law school in the near future, and we will have to consider our options to determine how we're going to go forward with this."
The executive director of TWU’s proposed law school lamented that the high court is moving in the direction of denying Christian law schools the right to uphold biblical codes of conduct – if they want to be accredited.
“All Canadians should be troubled by today's decision that sets a precedent for how the courts will interpret and apply charter rights and equality rights going forward," Phillips expressed in a statement, according to the Canadian Press.
On the other side of the issue, Ontario Law Society Treasurer Paul Schabas saw the Canadian Supreme Court decision as a major win for the LGBT rights – at the expense of Christians’.
"It is an affirmation of the critical work we have done and continue to do to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession," Schabas declared in a statement, according to Canada’s CTV News.