A proposed Christian law school in Canada that would require students to sign a statement saying “sexual intimacy” is only reserved for straight couples has just won a major legal victory, with the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling that graduates of the school have every right to practice law in the province.
If you need a refresher, Trinity Western University’s proposed law school in British Columbia, currently scheduled to open in 2018, can’t guarantee that graduates will be able to work anywhere in Canada:
Prior to opening its school, the university approached law societies across the country to ensure its graduates would be able to practise law in all provinces. Six law societies — Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — have all granted accreditation to the law school
But the law societies in Ontario, B.C. and Nova Scotia have refused accreditation. The university has gone to court in each province to challenge these decisions.
In Nova Scotia, the university won at the provincial Supreme Court level. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society appealed that decision to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. The appeal was heard in April, and the court has yet to release a ruling.
A B.C. court also overturned the decision by that province’s law society. That decision was taken to the province’s appeal court earlier this month.
That B.C. court finally made its decision yesterday:
On Tuesday morning in Vancouver, the court dismissed an appeal from the law society, which had argued the covenant discriminated against members of the LGBT community.
Instead, the panel of justices ruled that the society’s decision to deny accreditation limits the university’s right to freedom of religion in a disproportionate way.
I have long argued that students who graduate from the school have every right to be treated like other attorneys. They don’t have to agree with the law in order to understand what it is and how it must be applied. It’s like a Young Earth Creationist who successfully defends his thesis in geoscience — if you did the same work as the other students, your beliefs shouldn’t block you from using your degree as you see fit. And by all accounts, Trinity’s law school wouldn’t be in the middle of any controversy if it wasn’t for the anti-gay policy — its curriculum is sound.
Keep in mind that, in the U.S., graduates of Liberty University’s law school don’t have this problem. Even if they don’t agree with, say, marriage equality, they’re still required to understand the law and pass the bar exam. If they can do that, they have every right to be a credentialed attorney.
Not everyone feels the same way. Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association, was disappointed with the ruling:
“We’re utterly disappointed by today’s decision. It represents a shockingly outdated view of the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community. Where the Ontario Court of Appeal said the Community Covenant “is deeply discriminatory to the LGBTQ community, and it hurts,” the BC Court of Appeal trivializes the discrimination as “minimal impact.”
“The court also uncritically adopted the arguments of TWU and its intervenors that exercising such discrimination through their admissions policy was a core component of their religious beliefs and thus protected by the Charter.
“We argued that the court should take a skeptical look at what limits should be put on freedom of religion and to consider the rights of the non-Evangelical students who choose to study at TWU. We had hoped the justices would engage with our arguments; unfortunately, they chose not to.
“We are now faced with conflicting decisions in two of Canada’s largest provinces’ highest courts. This will ultimately have to be resolved at the Supreme Court of Canada, where we’re hopeful that secular and progressive values will win the day.”
The fight isn’t over yet. Like Bushfield says, because of all these conflicting opinions, it may take the Supreme Court of Canada to sort this issue out once and for all.
(Thanks to Farbone for the link. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)