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Canada’s top court rules against Christian law school: LGBT ‘rights’ trump religious freedom

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

OTTAWA, June 15, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that LGBT sexual equality "rights" trump religious rights in an unprecedented blow against religious freedom in Canada.

In a pair of 7-2 rulings (here and here), the court ruled that it was "proportionate and reasonable" for the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario to refuse accreditation to future Trinity Western University students because the proposed Christian law school’s "community covenant" would discriminate against LGBTQ people.

"In our respectful view, the [law societies] decision not to accredit Trinity Western University's proposed law school represents a proportionate balance between the limitation on the Charter right at issue and the statutory objectives the [law societies] sought to pursue," the ruling stated.

The ruling means that future grads from Trinity Western University's law school — if the school, in fact, opens — will not be able to practice law in Ontario and B.C.

TWU, a private Christian college associated with the Evangelical Free Church, requires students to sign a commitment to refrain from any sexual activity “that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

A majority of five judges, Rosalie Abella, Michael Moldaver, Andromache Karakatsanis, Richard Wagner and Clement Gascon ruled the law societies’ decisions were reasonable. 

Then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Malcolm Rowe agreed but for different reasons, set out in separate opinions. 

“Freedom of religion protects the rights of religious adherents to hold and express beliefs through both individual and communal practices. Where a religious practice impacts others, however, this can be taken into account at the balancing stage. In this case, the effect of the mandatory Covenant is to restrict the conduct of others,” McLachlin wrote in her opinion on the appeal by the Law Society of British Columbia.

“The LSBC’s decision prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school. These individuals would have to deny who they are for three years to receive a legal education. Being required by someone else’s religious beliefs to behave contrary to one’s sexual identity is degrading and disrespectful.”

Justices Brown and Côté dissented, writing that the majority “betrays the promise of our Constitution that rights limitations must be demonstrably justified.”

"Under the LSBC’s governing statute, the only proper purpose of a law faculty approval decision is to ensure the fitness of individual graduates to become members of the legal profession. The LSBC’s decision denying approval to TWU’s proposed law school has a profound impact on the s. 2 (a) rights of the TWU community,” they wrote.

“Even if the LSBC’s statutory ‘public interest’ mandate were to be interpreted such that it had the authority to take considerations other than fitness into account, approving the proposed law school is not contrary to the public interest objectives of maintaining equal access and diversity in the legal profession. Nor does it condone discrimination against LGBTQ persons. In our view, then, the only decision reflecting a proportionate balancing between Charter rights and the LSBC’s statutory objectives would be to approve TWU’s proposed law school.”

Observers predicted the top court’s highly anticipated Trinity Western University decision would have far-reaching implications for faith-based institutions and their participation in society.

The Supreme Court heard two appeals, one brought by TWU and the other by the Law Society of British Columbia, as well as arguments from a staggering 32 interveners, represented by 56 lawyers, last November 30 and December 1.

Then-Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin made an unprecedented decision in August to allow all 26 LGBTQ interveners, overruling a previous decision by Justice Richard Wagner to pare the number down to fit a traditional one-day hearing.

Underscoring the political nature of the case, McLachlin did so after LGBTQ activists took to Twitter to complain. The Court subsequently took the rare step of issuing a press release explaining the decision.

Friday’s rulings end a legal odyssey that began when TWU applied in 2012 to open a law school, but was preemptively challenged by the law societies in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

They refused to grant accreditation to TWU graduates on the grounds that the Covenant violated Charter equality provisions by discriminating against homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered persons, as well as those with a different sexual moral code.

In the case of BC, the decision was based on a binding referendum the law society held in 2014 after members demanded it rescind a decision to accept TWU graduates.

TWU fought the ruling in all provinces, arguing the Charter protects its freedom of religion.

It won in Nova Scotia and B.C., but lost in Ontario, when Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in June 2016 TWU’s covenant “is deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community.”

Both TWU and B.C.’s law society appealed to the top court.

Interveners in the case included Ontario’s Liberal government, which compared Trinity’s covenant to treating LGBTQ persons as Ontario treated Jews 200 years ago by banning non-Christians from the legal profession.

Other groups intervening against TWU included West Coast LEAF; Start Proud; Egale Canada Human Rights Trust; British Columbia Humanist Association; Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans People of the University of Toronto; and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Among groups intervening for TWU were the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Association for Reformed Political Action, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, and the National Coalition of Catholic Trustees Association.

TWU fought and won a similar legal battle in 2001, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny accreditation to TWU education graduates because of the community covenant.

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