Canadian Supreme Court to decide if Christian school can require students to uphold Biblical values
OTTAWA, December 1, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — A Christian college at the heart of what observers say is Canada’s most significant religious liberty case since it adopted the Charter finally had its days in court.
The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments Thursday and Friday from lawyers for Trinity Western University and the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario, as well as from 56 lawyers representing a staggering 32 intervenors in the landmark case.
A Christian liberal arts college in Langley, B.C., Trinity Western University (TWU) requires that students sign a community covenant that includes a promise to refrain from any sexual conduct “that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
As a result, the law societies in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia preemptively challenged TWU’s proposed law school, delaying its initially scheduled 2016 opening until at least 2019.
The law societies refused to grant accreditation to TWU graduates because, they claim, the covenant violates Charter equality provisions by discriminating against homosexual and transgendered persons.
TWU argued the Charter protects its freedom of religion, and fought the ruling in all provinces. It won in Nova Scotia and B.C.
The Supreme Court of B.C. ruled the case shows “that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal,” reported the CBC.
But TWU lost in Ontario. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in June 2016 that TWU’s covenant “is deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community.”
Both TWU and B.C.’s law society appealed to the top court.
The Supreme Court made an exceptional ruling to grant two full days for the appeals to allow for the unprecedented number of interveners.
These included Ontario’s Liberal government, which compared Trinity’s covenant requiring students to refrain from homosexual relations to the anti-Semitism inherent in the province’s banning non-Christians from the legal profession 200 years ago.
“Ontarians have a right to expect that they or their children can seek to become lawyers without facing impediments because of their religion, gender or sexual orientation,” the attorney general’s factum stated.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association lawyer Alan D’Silva made similar arguments Friday when the nine justices heard from interveners.
He said TWU’s covenant “offends modern concepts of equality and privacy,” reported the Vancouver Sun.
Chris Paliare, lawyer for the Advocates’ Society, argued that “merit should determine who gets admitted to law school,” the Sun reported.
“Who you sleep with or how you choose to live your private life should not be a factor in deciding who gets admitted to law school,” Paliare said.
But Albertos Polizogopoulos, lawyer for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, argued the “coercive imposition of the majority view” by the law societies “is a straightforward breach of freedom of religion.”
EFC President Bruce Clemenger pointed out in a press statement that “Christian institutions are usually founded on statements of faith and codes of conduct.”
These codes are “essential parts of their identity” and “consistent with Canadian law and should be respected in a free and democratic society.”
Other groups intervening for TWU included the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Association for Reformed Political Action, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, and the National Coalition of Catholic Trustees Association.
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.
The Supreme Court reserved its judgement.
“We know the Supreme Court justices will carefully consider the case and we are confident they will decide in favour of a truly free, diverse and pluralistic Canadian society,” Earl Phillips, executive director of TWU’s proposed law school, said in a statement Friday.
“As the B.C. Court of Appeal stated when it decided in favour of the law school, ‘a society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society’,” noted TWU President Bob Kuhn.
“This case is about more than our law school. It is about freedom for all faith communities and other minorities in Canada.”