A Christian University in Canada says it is fighting back with legal action after law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia refused to approve a new law school. The law organizations say they are concerned graduates of the school might discriminate against gays and lesbians.
The Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail reports the controversy centers around a provision in a code of conduct requiring all students and staff to sign a statement not to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.
Trinity Western University is Canada’s largest privately funded Christian university. TWU was founded in 1962, enrolls an estimated 3,500 students, and is located in Langley, British Columbia.
The Trinity Western University Law School is slated to open in 2016. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education have approved TWU’s School of Law. The Law Societies of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and other provinces have decided to accept TWU’s graduates. Even with these approvals, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) has voted 28 to 21 to ban TWU School of Law graduates from practicing in the province of Ontario. The LSUC voted to ban graduates primarily because of the school’s traditional Biblical Christian views on marriage.
On April 25, the Nova Scotia Barristers Society (NSBS) also voted 10 to 9 not to approve the School of Law unless TWU changed its Biblical beliefs and practices.
“We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect and unfortunately, TWU is now being forced to re-litigate an issue that was decided in its favor by an 8 to 1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001,” said TWU President Bob Kuhn.
Kuhn was referring to a ruling in the school’s favor by the Supreme Court of Canada in a case related to accreditation of graduates of the teaching program.
TWU has posted a video to the school’s website, defending the covenant and stating the school has done nothing wrong.
“We are not prepared to throw over the values that have been traditionally held in the Christian community and in the communities of many faiths just because an organization has changed its sexual ethnic, the school president said in the video.
The Globe and Mail quotes Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society president Rene Gallant as saying he was expecting the lawsuit, but “you can’t let the threat of litigation prevent you from doing the right thing.” Gallant also stated the society consulted extensively with lawyers, the public and Trinity Western University, and that hours of debate took place before the vote to deny accreditation took place.
The Canadian Press reports the law society in British Columbia has voted to accredit the school. On April 14 a Petitioner represented by Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby commenced a lawsuit against the British Columbia Minister of Advanced Education to challenge the Province’s approval of the law program in December of 2013. TWU says it is applying to the BC court to be added as a Respondent to this litigation so that it will have an opportunity to present arguments.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy spoke with David Nammo, executive director and CEO of the Christian Legal Society for his input on the situation.
“The Christian Legal Society supports the efforts of Trinity Western University,” Nammo told the IRD. The fear of “potential discrimination by the law school’s graduates, as if the same Christians couldn’t attend law school elsewhere and live out their faith, is absolute discrimination against Christians,” he added.
He also told the IRD this situation could have serious consequences for the future. “If possible future graduates of a Christian law school should be denied the right to practice laws because of their beliefs, wouldn’t the next logical step be to find those Christians currently practicing law and remove their ability to practice laws?”
Nammo also asked the question: “When did it become acceptable to discriminate against Christians in Canada?”
“Canada and its provinces should be encouraged that Trinity Western is dedicated to graduating practitioners of the law that are called to have integrity by something higher than the ethics commission,” Nammo told the IRD. “I know they will find graduates of Trinity Western to be of the highest caliber in future years.”