TORONTO, July 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The decision of an Ontario Divisional Court to uphold the rejection of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school because of its Christian code of conduct holds implications for all Christians in Canada that are “dismaying and frightening,” a TWU spokesman said.
Guy Saffold, the special assistant to TWU’s president, told LifeSiteNews that the Langley, British Columbia, Evangelical Christian university would hold to its beliefs and appeal the decision. But he added that the reasoning of the Ontario judges reflected changing social attitudes that spelled trouble for true Christians.
“It points out that the future may be much more difficult in terms of the consideration our pluralistic society is willing to pay to our freedom to practise our religious beliefs.”
“We do not think it is a good thing,” he added, “that Evangelical Christians are being defined by our position on this narrow issue. We are not trying to roll back the clock and get same-sex marriage thrown out. It is not a question of us attacking anyone’s activities. What is at stake for us is the centrality to our faith of our concept of marriage. We are not giving up our beliefs or practices on this issue.”
In 2014, TWU was forced to postpone its plans to open a law school by 2016 when the legal professions in Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia voted not to recognize its graduates, claiming its Community Covenant requiring students to refrain from all but married, heterosexual activities was a violation of homosexual rights. This in turn led the British Columbia government to withdraw accreditation, at least temporarily.
TWU appealed the Nova Scotia law society’s ruling and won, earlier this year, while its challenge to the B.C. law society is still pending. Yesterday it lost its appeal of the Law Society of Upper Canada before the Ontario Divisional Court tribunal, which found that although the LSUC had infringed on the school’s religious liberty, the school had infringed even more on the rights of people identifying as homosexual.
The judges set considerable store by the law society’s efforts towards equality, noting its admission of Blacks and women in the 19th Century and its 1991 condemnation of “discrimination because of, inter alia, race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, gender [or] sexual orientation.”
What’s more, the law society was bound by Ontario’s human rights legislation, which also bans discrimination on sexual grounds. And TWU was clearly discriminating, the judges found, because “individuals who may not believe in marriage, or LGBTQ persons, may attend TWU but they must first sign the Community Covenant and thus, in essence, disavow not only their beliefs but, in the case of LGBTQ individuals, their very identity. To assert that that result is not, at its core, discriminatory is to turn a blind eye to the true impact and effect of the Community Covenant.”
TWU, said Safford, argued that the Covenant “didn’t infringe on anyone’s beliefs, only their actions,” but the court disagreed, finding the requirement to refrain from sexual activities while enrolled at TWU too onerous a burden. The Nova Scotia judge did not find it so.
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Another key difference between the Ontario and Nova Scotia rulings was the weight given the 2001 Supreme Court of Canada decision in B.C. College of Teachers versus Trinity Western U.
TWU argued the cases were very similar and the law identical, which the Nova Scotia judge accepted. The B.C. College had refused to recognize TWU’s new teacher’s college graduates because the university’s Community Covenant discriminated against homosexuals. The B.C. Appeal Court and the Supreme Court found that it did not discriminate, because no evidence of actual discriminatory action was advanced. And TWU was a Christian community with a right to practice its beliefs. “The 2001 ruling is still good law,” says Safford.
But the Ontario judges ruled that the law society’s rejection did not prevent anyone attending TWU law school. “TWU remains free to operate its law school,” they state. “And persons who attend it are free to pursue their legal education within an overriding atmosphere of evangelical Christian beliefs.” (This ignored the fact that the B.C. government had withdrawn approval because of the law societies’ actions.)
What is more, said the judges, if the LSUC’s rejection led TWU to decide not to open its law school at all, this was “much more an economic decision, as opposed to a religious one.” But both points could equally have been made about the B.C. College of Teachers’ decision, which the Supreme Court overthrew.
With contrary decisions in different provinces, at least one of which calls into question a previous Supreme Court ruling, the issue must surely reach the Supreme Court of Canada where it will pit religious freedom against the rights of sexual minorities.
Trinity Western is a 58-year-old fully accredited private, evangelical Christian university with 3,500 students. It has specialty schools in nursing, business and teaching, and a Roman Catholic affiliate college.