Published On: Sun, Jul 1st, 2018

Trinity Western University: Canadian Supreme Court votes 7-2 against the law school

About 20 years ago in Langley, British Columbia (BC) less than an hour from Vancouver, Trinity Western University (TWU) planned and prepared for what would be Canada’s first and only Christian law school.

gavel judge court case ruling

photo by Okan Caliskan via Pixabay

After years of hard work, the BC Minister of Advanced Education fully approved the proposal in December 2013, as did both The Law Society of British Columbia and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

However, things took a negative detour and unanticipated and unprecedented opposition arose. Not with the education quality, but for the school’s core Christian values.

This prompted the B.C. Minister of Advanced Education to revoke his approval when the Law Society of B.C. reversed its original decision to accept TWU’s law graduates. The Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society also voted against the TWU law school.

TWU pursued litigation in those three provinces.  The Nova Scotia litigation has concluded in TWU’s favour.  Ontario courts decided against TWU, while BC courts decided in favour.  Those two cases were heard at the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 and December 1, 2017.

On Friday June 15 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision:

In Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada and Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia, justices sided 7-2 against TWU, calling it “proportionate and reasonable” to favor the rights of LGBT students over the school’s religious convictions.

The question the Court had to answer was whether the Law Societies’ decisions not to approve TWU’s proposed law school were reasonable. They said that they were. To be considered reasonable, the decisions had to strike a proportionate balance between the religious rights of the TWU community and the Law Societies’ objectives to protect the public interest. For the majority, the “public interest” included promoting equality by ensuring equal access to the legal profession, supporting diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students. Neither Law Society was stopping someone from following his or her own religious beliefs (including following the covenant if s/he wanted to). They only prevented TWU from enforcing beliefs on other members of the law school community. Because of this, the majority said the decisions did not seriously limit anyone’s religious freedoms. As the benefits of protecting the public interest were important, and the limitation on religious rights was minor, the majority said that both decisions reflected a proportionate balance, and were therefore reasonable.

The Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) responded:

While many have tried to frame this case as a clash between religious freedom and equality rights, it needn’t be so. Charter rights are not competitors in a zero-sum game. They can be fully exercised in co-existence, as the Supreme Court recognized in the first TWU case in 2001. Since that time, both equality rights and religious freedom have enjoyed expanding interpretations: in tandem, not competition. In the very context of expanding equality rights on the grounds of sexual orientation, religious freedom has been strongly affirmed. It is disappointing that, in today’s decision, the majority departed from this approach.

CLF Executive Director & General Counsel Derek Ross wrote:

The Supreme Court of Canada’s Trinity Western decision is being celebrated by many as a win for diversity. In truth, the ‘diversity’ advanced by the majority’s reasons is not authentic diversity at all.

The majority’s reasons, like the Law Societies’ arguments, repeatedly referred to the importance of “promoting diversity within the bar”, yet they overlooked the value of promoting religious diversity. A religious law school would contribute to the richness of a diverse bar, and make it more reflective of the society it serves, by encouraging religious minorities to enter the profession.

The law societies did not dispute that TWU’s law graduates would be qualified, competent, and ethical. Denying those students equal admission to the profession solely because of their connection with a distinctly religious university is unjust. As the dissent warned, “the imposition of judicially preferred ‘values’ to limit constitutionally protected rights, including the right to hold other values” is both “troubling”, and “risks illiberal outcomes”.

The School of Law—which would have focused on charities, not-for-profit, and entrepreneurial law—would have been TWU’s seventh school.



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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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