Here’s Why the Proposed Faith-Based Canadian Law School That Would Ban Sexually-Active Gay Students Doesn’t Bother Me December 23, 2013

Here’s Why the Proposed Faith-Based Canadian Law School That Would Ban Sexually-Active Gay Students Doesn’t Bother Me

Trinity Western University is a private Christian school in British Columbia and they have been trying to open up their own law school. Last Monday, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada decided to give them “preliminary approval.” They’re well on their way to becoming fully accredited.

That by itself shouldn’t be a big deal. In the United States, we’re used to Christian law schools (like Pat Robertson‘s Regent University School of Law and Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty University School of Law).

But here’s the big controversy (one that we’ve just grown accustomed to in the U.S.): Trinity Western doesn’t want to accept any gay or lesbian students who refuse to remain celibate:

[Critics] argue that a covenant requiring all students, staff and faculty at Trinity Western to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” is discriminatory. A footnote to the provision cites a biblical passage condemning homosexuality.

Trinity Western has argued that students choose to adhere when they apply, and president Bob Kuhn hopes to “move on from that debate.”

But Clayton Ruby, a prominent Toronto criminal and civil-rights lawyer, said if B.C. allows the law school, “there will be a lawsuit” launched primarily on Charter grounds. Mr. Ruby has been among the proposal’s most outspoken opponents, and on Monday, he called the Federation’s decision “cowardly nonsense” because “it punts the issue” to B.C.’s government.

“It’s a simple act of discrimination against gays and lesbians. To the extent that this school has law students, the door is closed to gay and lesbian lawyers and judges, and that is demeaning not only to them, but to all of us,” he said.

Law professor Dyanoosh Youssefi, writing for the Huffington Post, explains that the biggest problem here is that law school is supposed to be a place where you learn about justice and fairness and equality, yet Trinity wants to write discrimination right into their charter:

Law students and lawyers are the very people who have fought (alongside activists and claimants) to ensure that people are not discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, and that sexual equality extends to people of varying sexual orientations.

So how can it be that a law school, the very place that should be the safest bastion for studying and promoting equality, so blatantly violates this fundamental right?

A law school that bans homosexual behaviour is the antithesis of all that is taught within its walls. A law school that violates one of the fundamental rights in our democracy makes a mockery of those rights.

She makes a perfectly good point. (Though her article wrongly states that gay students would not be admitted to the school. Gay and lesbian students are welcome at the school as long as they don’t *act* on their homosexuality. A fine point, but an important one for the sake of accuracy.)

But here’s why I’m not as concerned as she appears to be: Once they graduate from law school, they still have to play by the same rules as everybody else. In Canada, the law supports gay relationships even if it’s forbidden within the Christian Bubble. It doesn’t matter what the honor code is at the school because those rules don’t apply in the real world. Graduates of the law school won’t be able to use the Bible to support their positions in court when they’re representing clients.

Is the gay-ban at the school discriminatory? Absolutely… if you’re someone who cares about human beings over what the Bible might say about some of them. But they’re conservative Christians; you don’t expect them to do the kind, decent thing. Bad ideas are built right into their beliefs. But if the school wants to single out gay students in a way they wouldn’t target their straight students, that’s unfortunately their right. The graduates will still have to pass the same bar exams for their province as students from public law schools.

That’s why I don’t put a lot of stock in this attempt to raise funds for a legal challenge against the school. The school should be accredited (or not) based on how well and accurately it teaches the law, not on its faith-based admission policies.

When it comes down to it, they have a right to run a law school as they wish and I don’t see how a challenge on grounds of discrimination will hold any water. Once they graduate, it won’t matter anyway. The law won’t allow for that kind of discrimination in the public sphere, even if some critics are concerned that the school will create “anti-gay lawyers.” Really? I find it hard to believe someone who’s already tolerant will turn anti-gay at the school. More likely, the students who enter the school thinking homosexuality is wrong will feel the same way once they leave it.

If I were a student, I just wouldn’t apply there. I could do better than that place. I would want to go to a school where I’m surrounded by students and faculty who accept and welcome diversity, not those who find something inherently wrong with it.

And if I were an employer, I would think twice before ever hiring someone from a school that embraced bigotry.

By all means, let’s keep pointing out what awful human beings these administrators at Trinity Western are for pushing this policy. Let’s keep pointing out that a school of law has policies in place that would never be acceptable outside of it. But let’s not act like they don’t have a right to be bigoted Christians. They do, even at a law school.

(Thanks to Kevin for the link)

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  • Are they applying different rules to gays than to straights? From the post, it sounds to me like they forbid all sex outside of marriage.

    If so, I think it is reasonable to argue that no institution should be able to require that of its students, or its employees, regardless of its private, religious nature.

  • Jeremiah Traeger

    I am capable of criticizing them on legal ground and I can also criticize them for being asshats. They aren’t breaking any law, but they are being the asshats we have come to expect of Christianity.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    Is it legal to forbid mixed race relationships too?

  • L.Long

    As much as I hate bigots, I do not see anything wrong here.
    The school says no sex well they want it applied to gays too, well OK.
    Well if they are up front with the rules and restrictions and you don’t like them well exercise your right to not go there.
    If you do decide to go there and sign that you will follow the rules, then don’t, and get kicked out – well tough!!! Bury your head in a pillow and feel sorry for yourself for being stupid.

  • sean samis

    Hemant; I would push-back a little because I suppose that TWU’s Law School will need accreditation by some national organization. That organization can (and should) refuse to accredit this Law School.

    Doing so might appear “discriminatory” against TWU’s religious rights, but it is justified.

    If the accrediting body is run by the Government of Canada, then it has a duty to protect the full rights of every Canadian. Refusing to accredit a law school at TWU would be justified; it protects the religious rights of all Canadians.

    If the accrediting body is “private” then it has the same rights as TWU and may act on its beliefs even if that prevents TWU from being accredited.

    TWU has a right to act in accordance with the beliefs of those who run it; but likewise any accrediting agency has the same right. If TWU can act in a way that harms gay and lesbian students, the accrediting agency has a right to act in a way that harms TWU. Either way, the TWU Law School should never be accredited so long as it discriminates against gay and lesbian students.

    sean s.

  • Rob Bos

    I’m a lot more comfortable with “nobody allowed to have sex” than with “gay people not allowed to have sex”. Marriage is legal in BC for gay people, so they’d run into problems there, though.

  • Katie Webb

    I love laws that are not enforceable. Will there be random celibacy check points where your nether region is inspected for bodily fluids that do not originate within your own body (assuming condoms are illegal to own as well) or will they issue chastity belts at orientation?

  • I appreciate your point, thanks for this post. “the students who enter the school thinking homosexuality is wrong will feel the same way once they leave it.” That’s probably true for many, but it’s worth noting that’s not the case for everyone. I did my undergraduate and graduate studies at TWU. When I entered I was an anti-gay conservative Christian. By time I left I affirmed full equality for LGBT people and opposed the school’s policy and anti-gay theologies. It was my education in the Religious Studies department there, which taught me to genuinely listen to and engage with perspectives that I did not agree with, that played a major role in that transformation, as I began to give “liberal” perspectives a fair hearing and found them to be convincing (I, like many of my fellow students in religious studies and in the sciences, also came to reject creation “science” and embrace evolution as the best explanation for human origins — and it was because of our Bible and science professors encouraging us to think deeper than what we may have learned in Sunday school). The student newspaper publishing contributions from gay students also played a major role for me. Other students I knew went through similar transformations from hatred/discrimination to equality/inclusiveness. So I suspect there may very well be law students who go through Trinity and become more tolerant as a result. Even many those who still hold on to “traditional” views about sexuality, will I think still fight for the human rights of all people in the public arena. TWU, like many faith-based organizations, is a complex place. While I oppose their official policy, there is a lot more open-mindedness and progressive thinking amongst students and faculty than some realize.

  • L.Long

    After reading your comment I reread the post ad found my error.
    My comment post still stands, but I mis-read and what they are being bigots about is not allowing married gays to have sex. Which I have to agree with you and others that this is bigotry, but how do you enforce this??
    Put video cameras in their bedrooms?? According to their buyBull BS wives are not allowed to give husbands blowjobs! How do you enforce this??? So they want cameras in very room in every students home???
    Hell they are going to law school! So go ahead and sign, go to school and lie!! After all it is a skill you must know well to be a lawyer.

  • Their community standards do prohibit sex outside of heterosexual marriage. When I attended they also prohibited drinking and on-campus dancing, but I think they changed that. The community standards are something that have been hotly contested within the university, and some alumni (like me) have issues with them. But, I think private institutions should be able to have those sorts of voluntary agreements. One thing I did appreciate about TWU, was that they did not require you to be a Christian to attend. Some religious schools make you prove you are born-again to be a student.

  • sunburned

    I don’t think that exclusionary practices should be allowed with entities that offer services to the public.

    Not too mention how creepy this all sounds. Sure you can be gay, just not have sex.

  • But, I think private institutions should be able to have those sorts of voluntary agreements.

    Of course, that’s a valid question for society to ask itself. Personally, I do not believe private institutions should be able to enforce such rules. We don’t allow businesses to place these kinds of demands on their customers, and I see this school as a business, a quasi-public institution. If we allow “private” entities to dictate things like the sexual behavior of those affiliated with them, we risk fragmenting our society into thousands of little “private” organizations each with its own set of rules. That does not seem to me something that can produce a healthy society.

  • More comfortable, but certainly not comfortable.

  • Mark W.

    I think you’ve fallen down on 2 points.

    The first is that you assume that all the students are single, but same sex marriage has been a thing in Canada for a while now. So, if you want to ban gay/lesbians from having sex, then try to blanket that by saying that it doesn’t matter because they want ban ‘all’ sex out of wedlock, except some of the same sex couples may be married.

    Secondly, you are pointing out that anyone going to this school will probably be anti-gay already, and it won’t indoctrinate anyone who isn’t already already a ‘believer’. While this is true, it will re-enforce their already bigoted view of homosexuality, while education at a more mainstream University may actually challenge them on their views.

  • sean samis


    That the school’s rule is difficult to enforce is not relevant unless they have the same rule for all students regardless of sexual orientation.

    If a pair of heterosexual students are caught in flagrante delicto, are they treated the same way as a pair of gay or a pair of lesbian students?

    If consensual sexual conduct comes to the attention of the school, and sexual orientation affects how the school responds, that is bigotry, plain and simple. Bigotry must not be condoned nor facilitated.

    sean s.

  • MNb

    “If the accrediting body is run by the Government of Canada”
    The Netherlands have a similar issue. Even orthodox schools are sponsored by Dutch government (it’s called “bijzonder onderwijs”, special school). Several months ago a teacher came out of the closet and was fired by the orthodox protestant school he worked at. Alas I couldn’t find anything in English; his name is Duran Renkema. He went to court, won and then left the school.
    For private schools (which are too expensive to be competitive in The Netherlands) I wouldn’t know what would have happened.

  • John Gills

    re: no on-campus dancing.
    As a fallen-away Methodist, I treasure the wisecrack that Methodists are opposed to sex because it might lead to dancing.

  • sean samis


    It is not a “voluntary agreement” if it is the price of admission or can lead to expulsion.

    If TWU chooses to admit non-Christians, that is “voluntary”; requiring non-Christians to live by religious rules is not justified; it is an “involuntary imposition”. If they want their students living according to the school’s religious beliefs (which is to say “according to the religious beliefs of the folks who run the school”) then they should limit admission to those who already share those beliefs. Then this is a “voluntary agreement

    sean s.

  • Mark W.

    “Heterosexual marriage”

    This is where it falls apart. What about homosexual marriages which are entirely legal in Canada. There is no legal distinction between hetero- and homosexual marriages in Canada.

  • i’m so very tired of the selective application of Leviticus. Where is the ban on shellfish? cheeseburgers? poly fabrics? Do they stone adulterous students? Slaughter nonbelievers?

    i’m equally tired of anyone who treats people who cherry pick in this way as ‘rational’ or ‘within their rights.’ yes, technically in free societies we all have the right to believe whatever we want.

    just as i have the right to point out the overwhelming hypocrisy, stupidity, and illogic of people who do so like these idiots.

  • Corey Henderson

    I want to post (Canadian ex-pat here) and say I agree that the accreditation requirement is the key here. It does not matter whether the accreditation is done by a governmental body or a private body. (IIRC Ontario has the “Law Society of Upper Canada” that is not run directly by the government.)

    The key is that if by law, to PRACTICE as a lawyer in a court of law in BC or Canada, you have to be accredited by some oversight mechanism, then that accreditation has to be subject to the same equality laws regardless of who runs it. For this school to be considered accredited by that governing organization, it should be subject to equality protections like any government program would be. (Note that I am speaking of two different of accreditation: The personal one as a lawyer and the institutional one as a law school.)

    In fact, I think you can draw a strong parallel here with marriage equality. The biggest argument for full marriage access for LGBT people is that the government builds laws on top of that social construct. All citizens should have equality in the face of those laws. Marriage was/is primarily a religious artifact. But the government now issues the licenses and there are tax, medical and legal benefits that depend on marriage. Historically being a lawyer was probably more distinct from the government (at least it was in “Upper Canada”, I believe) but if laws and regulations are built on top of that accreditation then treatment must be equal, just like it should be in terms of marriages.

  • Sean, it is voluntary in the sense that attendance at TWU is voluntary. People do not have to attend TWU, they are free to go to any number of universities. Because it is private, TWU is actually one of the most expensive universities in Canada, and in the lower-mainland there are plenty of excellent, affordable, educational institutions which offer just about all of the programs that TWU offers. TWU makes it clear to students that by entering the university you are becoming a part of a community that has certain values, standards, and commitments, and that you are agreeing to abide by those standards. It does not seem all that different to me than companies which have behavioural expectations of their employees. A&E is within their rights to suspend Duck Dynasty dude because of his homophobic and racist remarks, and IAC is within their rights to fire Justine Sacco for her Twitter comment.

  • Re: point (2): as I noted in my comment below, many who have gone to TWU have actually rejected their bigoted view of homosexuality because of their education there.

  • The school should not be accredited. Those lawyers that they produce will enter society. These lawyers might one day have to represent a homosexual in a legal affair. Given their training it would be impossible for them to fulfill the duty to the court and provide the best defense.

    The school has a right to hold bigoted views, but accreditation is a privilege and not a right.

  • Darren

    Why don’t Baptists have sex standing up?

    God might think they are dancing.

  • Glasofruix

    What i find appaling is that a school thinks it has something to say about its students’ (young adults’) private life.

  • Liam

    Amusingly, it’d be illegal to apply the same restrictions to instructors/administrators, I believe. BC’s Human Rights Code forbids indirect discrimination in employment by putting an additional burden on members of a protected class.

  • CanadianNihilist

    If They ban all sexual behavior from students gay or strait, then as I see it, it’s fine.
    I don’t think people would actually remain celibate but a big part of religion is just pretending to do or not do stuff anyways.

    As people have pointed out; One of the problems with this policy is that gay marriage is perfectly legal and accepted here(especially BC). Are they going to tell all their married students not to have sex?
    Although the school may be within their legal right to ban whoever they want (I’m not 100% convinced of that though) it’s a bad idea and asking for all sorts of trouble.

  • sean sami


    They are free to go elsewhere” was the justification used by southern racists to justify keeping Blacks out of segregated schools. It was unjust in those cases and unjustified in this case. It isn’t always possible to get into your preferred law school; if you apply to a hundred schools and TWU’s the only one that accepts you, then agreeing to submit to their beliefs is unjust, their beliefs have nothing to do with your abilities to be a good law student nor a good lawyer.

    And as said before, if TWU chooses to impose their beliefs on students, they have “voluntarily” submitted to the beliefs of any accrediting agency which could (and should) refuse to accredit their law school.

    The difference between A&E and TWU is that TWU’s rules are discriminatory: they ban certain conduct not for all, but only for gays and lesbians. A&E’s agreement is standard and does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, nor sexual orientation.

    The irony with Phil Richardson is that he demands his rights be respected even while he insists the rights of others not be respected. His complaint against A&E is hypocritical in that way, and his own religion condemns hypocrisy as a very serious sin.

    sean s.

  • KMR

    This is an interesting argument. I wonder if it can be applied to a psychology degree in Canada? Is it? I know it’s not here.

  • L.Long

    Actually you have a basic point. I would feel much better toward these types of bigots if they applied ALL!!!! the rules. But they do not, its just against an activity they find icky.
    So when these hypocritical bigots say gay is against gawd’s law while getting a divorce or cheating on the other, being called out on it in the harshest tones is not nearly enough.

  • Shoebutton

    The present Federal government in Canada is composed of Evangelical Christians that have their roots in what was called The Reform Party (They took over what was left of the Conservative Party in 2000 to gain the Conservative brand to better infiltrate Canadian politics)The Reform Party was started by Preston Manning who was instrumental in starting this university, which is designed along the line of Patrick Henry College
    The purpose of Trinity University is to turn out evangelical politicians of the Tea Party variety.

  • TravellingBeard

    The problem with lawyers that come from these schools is that they eventually become judges, which eventually become Supreme Court judges, which eventually chip away at universal rights bit by bit in the name of God. I know it’s remote, if even possible, should they get full accreditation, but that may be the path they are striving for.

  • Shoebutton

    I don’t want to seem paranoid, but this is the first federal government I have actually feared.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Another “The Christians do business in ways we don’t like, so we’ll complain about it” article. Ah well, I expect no different from the folks at FA.
    But I am heartened that Hemant seems to recognize that just as many people could care less what Christians say about how they live, so too, Christians, and many others people, could give half a crap about how many noisemakers like Clayton Ruby and others have an issue with how Christians do business in their private universities.

  • cyb pauli

    As a person whose ancestors were permanently displaced from their environment by Christian businessmen, I hope sincerely that people continue to question what other people are doing in the name of God. The name of God and the word private may be used to shield injustice from the rule of law, but neither the name of God nor claims to privacy can undo the damage injustice wreaks.

  • Ewan

    “But if the school wants to single out gay students in a way they wouldn’t target their straight students, that’s unfortunately their right.”

    Um, no, it’s just plain not. There is this really very, very odd strand of opinion that seems peculiar to people brought up in the US that only the government’s actions count, and everyone else is free to be as discriminatory as they want. It is not true.

  • Sara

    “But if the school wants to single out gay students in a way they wouldn’t target their straight students, that’s unfortunately their right.”

    Hemant, that is not the case. Students who engage in sex outside of marriage, straight or not, violate the community covenant.

    Also, as a current student at TWU I can tell you that the administration doesn’t try to go out of their way to enforce this, or anything of the sort. The purpose is to give an honour code in accordance with the school’s values.

  • _7654_

    Yep, Hemant, this will not fly in Canada. No entity can discriminate over here, private or not.

  • Red-star

    Wait wait….what is with this idea? It isn’t a big deal when a Christian says “the gay lifestyle is inherently harmful” but when people respond by calling the idea idiotic it is a big deal?

  • I suppose that since this is a private university they can discriminate just like private schools do in the US. I’m going to call them out on hypocrisy though unless they are also expelling sexually active unmarried heterosexual students. The policy was clear that it was sex outside of marriage that they were against. Is the policy equally applied. (In general I find this not to be the case at religious schools, unless one of the women gets pregnant.)

    I agree that someone is not going to spend 3 years in this law school and suddenly turn into a bigot. I don’t think that’s a legitimate concern. I would, however, think less of someone with a degree from such a bigoted school when looking for an attorney.

  • Matt D

    Agreed. I’m also tired of these people getting all frothy over gay sex, as if that’s all we do with each other 24/7.

  • rg57

    Hemant: “… as long as they don’t *act* on their homosexuality. A fine point, but an important one for the sake of accuracy.”

    US Supreme Court: “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct…”

    I know who I trust more.

  • rg57

    And not only for that reason…

  • rg57

    Or perhaps one or two races entirely?

  • rg57

    It sure looks like they’re breaking the law, on its face.

    They are providing an education service to the public.

    They are denying that service to a group of people based on protected characteristics (sex and orientation and marital status), AND a protected activity (sex).

    I don’t see how it can possibly be legal in Canada.

  • Ryan Hite

    I think it would be very easy to lie and get around that law…

  • Sara

    Yes it would. That’s something I was getting at with it being an “honour code.” Otherwise said, it’s not something meant to be enforced by force, but an honourable decision upheld by those who choose to attend the private institution.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    Colour me cynical, but those kinds of rules are exactly the type to get enforced at convenience, and ignored as required.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Of course not. I couldn’t very well say with a straight face “If we tell you guys to flip off it’s no big deal. But if you say it to us it’s persecution.”

    I’m just saying that sometimes it’s okay for an organization to make rules you don’t like but have every choice to follow or not follow.

  • The Starship Maxima


  • Wildcard

    I agree with that. But we still can comment that the rules are stupid themselves. Just like some guy can say it is stupid that he can’t say “Faggot”, (in the US sense) in a restaurant. Criticism is inevitable, well intentioned or not.

  • axelbeingcivil

    It isn’t actually allowed if it singles out one group, especially if it’s a university accredited by the Canadian government.

  • Brian Macker

    If they let married heterosexual couples have sex then it is only reasonable to allow married gay couple do the same. If the policy were of a) Singles of any orientation get booted for sex, and b)Married couples of any orientation get to have sex, then I don’t think that is discriminatory towards gays. Of course it is discriminatory towards single people, or those who’s religious beliefs do not require marriage for sex. I’m not sure how much that upsets me. If you want sex don’t go there.

  • Icaarus

    The bar of BC is still an independent oversight board, that may or may not choose to recognize the degree. If the degree is accredited the graduates will still have to pass the provincial bar and article under BC law before they can represent others.

  • The Starship Maxima

    No argument.

  • UWIR

    Isn’t there a lot of blurring between student and employee? Universities regularly hire students as TAs, tutors, graders, RAs, cafeteria workers, etc. How does that interact with discrimination rules?

  • UWIR

    “the administration doesn’t try to go out of their way to enforce this”

    So, there’s no blanket enforcement of it, it’s left to administrators’ whims?

  • UWIR

    When there’s a rule against something a large percentage of students are doing, that’s rather problematic. When the rule has to with sex, even more so. This is an environment highly favorable to date rapists and people who abuse their partners.

  • dullsteamer

    I always wonder why so many christians have this queasy fascination with other people’s sexuality and sex. Are they worried that they’re missing out on something?

    Ah, well, better latent than never I suppose.

  • sean samis

    Few of us care what Christians do in their private institutions; until they ask for public support or endorsements of those institutions. Then it is entirely appropriate for non-Christians to critique those behaviors. In the case of TWU, they probably want accreditation. Those who provide that accreditation have a MORAL RIGHT to review TWU’s practices and predicate their accreditation on their own opinions.

    sean s.

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