British Columbia Law Society approves Christian law school as Ontario hedges
LANGLEY, British Columbia, April 14, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Law Society of British Columbia has voted to approve Trinity Western University’s School of Law after a campaign targeting the university’s pro-family beliefs.
After the law school won the hard-fought approval from BC’s Ministry of Advanced Education and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, several provincial law societies suggested they could bypass the conventional process by refusing to admit TWU grads to their provincial bar.
Currently Alberta, Saskatchewan, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut have approved the proposed school for articling, but Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are debating the issue.
Ontario's Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) held a meeting on April 10, with another convocation scheduled for April 24th, to discuss and subsequently vote on accrediting graduates of the proposed school to practice law in Ontario.
According to a press release from TWU, LSUC's invitation for public submissions to be considered at their convocations resulted in 75 letters in favor of the school being granted accreditation in Ontario, and 125 letters opposed.
The opposition stems from TWU’s Community Covenant in which students voluntarily pledge to abstain from certain activities and behaviors during their studies, including dishonesty, the use of vulgar/obscene language, the viewing of pornography, the possession or use of alcohol on campus, and “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
TWU’s opponents argue that the Community Covenant is discriminatory towards homosexuals and that there is no place in Canada for a law school that holds traditional Christian beliefs.
"At its root, this now-national debate is about whether religious institutions, and individuals with a faith perspective, will remain free to hold religious definitions of marriage or whether, as some already argue, that is illegal," the statement from TWU reads.
But the university points out that they already won a battle on this issue at the Supreme Court. "In 2001, in a similar case against the British Columbia College of Teachers, Trinity Western University successfully defended its right to grant teaching degrees all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.”
"Now, as then, the University believes this is an issue of religious freedom, which not only affects TWU, but all religious organizations in Canada."
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In granting approval of TWU's law school, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) stated that "there is no public interest reason to exclude future graduates of TWU’s program from law society bar admission programs if the program meets the National Requirement."
Moreover, the FLSC stated in its report on the approval of the law school that the controversy over TWU’s Community Covenant Agreement is a provincial government issue rather than something provincial law societies should address.
"TWU’s Community Covenant Agreement that was the focus of much of the debate over its proposed law school program applies not only to the proposed law school but to all existing TWU students and faculty, and as such, is a broader issue that only the BC government can address," the FLSC wrote in its report.
In an open letter outlining the controversy, university president Bob Kuhn wrote that while there are Christian law schools in other parts of the world, there are none in Canada.
"Surely there is room in a pluralistic country for an excellent legal education provided in a Christian context. Trinity Western is uniquely positioned to offer this choice for students," Kuhn said.
He explained that "critics have tended to focus on one aspect of the University—a clause in our Community Covenant that asks students to respect our belief that marriage is defined, for our religious community, as being between a man and a woman.
"That debate has raised the issue of the balance of equal rights of gays and lesbians, and religious freedom," Mr. Kuhn said. “In reality, Parliament and the courts have already answered that question. Within the legislation that changed the definition of marriage in 2005, it is clear that religious communities, such as TWU, retain the right to define marriage according to their religious precepts."
"I believe that, as a community dedicated to both academic freedom and religious freedom, love and respect for all humanity has been—and will remain—one of our greatest strengths," Mr. Kuhn concluded, "for it has enabled us to unify our diverse community of students, faculty, and staff. It is a community that thrives amid the natural tension between faith and reason, all the while seeking to live out the Christian values that both guide, and give meaning to, our lives."
The transcript of the Law Society of Upper Canada's convocation on accreditation of TWU's law school held in Toronto on April 10 will be made available on the group's website for public inspection.
The next LSUC meeting will be held on April 24th, and will be webcast live. Information is available here.
Information about challenges to TWU's law school by the law societies of other provinces is available on TWU's School of Law website.