After Canadian court ruling, Christian law school re-evaluates community covenant

Trinity Western University President Bob Kuhn speaks to media following oral arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario, on Nov. 30, 2017. Photo courtesy of TWU

(RNS) — Days after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the accreditation of a Christian university’s proposed law school, school leaders said they are considering making its controversial community covenant optional. Doing so, they hope, would satisfy those who believe the covenant discriminates against LGBTQ applicants and allow the law school to open.

Earl Phillips, executive director of the School of Law at Trinity Western University, told Religion News Service that the 7-2 ruling by Canada’s highest court on June 15 suggested a workaround for the evangelical school based in Langley, British Columbia. In twin cases, the law societies of Ontario and British Columbia argued that TWU’s community covenant, which prohibits sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage, discriminates against LGBTQ applicants for admission. The court majority agreed with the law societies.

The majority wrote, “The (Law Society of British Columbia’s) decision prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school. These individuals would have to deny who they are for three years to receive a legal education.”

Earl Phillips. Photo courtesy of TWU

Allowing students to decide whether or not to sign the covenant would potentially allow the law school to gain accreditation. If it were to open, it would be Canada’s first private law school and first Christian law school.
“The decision seems to emphasize (that the majority’s) concern was that we have a mandatory community covenant that deals with matters regarding sexual relations, and the implication of that is that if it wasn’t mandatory that it could be acceptable,” Phillips said. “So, this is one of the key issues we have to look at and discern and see if that is a possibility. And then the (school) community has to consider whether any change to the community covenant could be possible.”

The ruling was a departure from a 2001 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in TWU’s favor over a teacher training program. In that case, the British Columbia College of Teachers, which licenses public school educators, denied accreditation for the school’s program, claiming the covenant would produce educators biased against LGBTQ youth. A majority of justices hearing that case ruled in TWU’s favor, noting that “British Columbia’s human rights legislation accommodates religious freedoms.” Today, TWU’s School of Education graduates are licensed to teach across the country.

The 2001 ruling did not stop many Ontario and British Columbia law groups from claiming TWU’s rules would injure prospective LGBTQ applicants. Of the 22 other law schools operated by public universities in Canada, three are in British Columbia, where Trinity Western is located.

One Canadian legal scholar said the June 15 decision might allow the school to open if it makes its covenant optional.

“The majority makes it sound as if the TWU program should be accredited by the law societies if they were to remove the covenant, particularly the element that has the effect of excluding gay/lesbian students,” said Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario specializing in freedom of conscience and religion.

Moon suggested the court majority may have supported the law societies because of the justices’ own experiences entering the legal profession decades earlier. There were fewer law schools then, he said, and admission to law school was more of a requirement to enter the legal profession.

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson/Creative Commons

“Unfortunately, TWU didn’t make the argument that admission to law school is not the same gateway or barrier that there once was,” Moon said. Another missed argument, he said, was whether “it’s legitimate for law societies to be concerned about the exclusion of gay and lesbian students (without being) equally concerned about exclusion of evangelical Christians.”

Critics of the ruling note that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains a section guaranteeing “freedom of conscience and religion,” which previously was seen as protecting sectarian groups’ free exercise rights. But supporters note that same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005, thereby helping protect LGBTQ persons against discrimination.

Barry W. Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, said the majority’s emphasis on unwritten “charter values” transcends the charter’s written guarantees.

“It now depends on the idiosyncrasies of the judicial mind,” Bussey said. Referring to the 2001 case, he added, “What they’ve done is ignored it. When it comes to precedent, the Canadian court feels it’s no longer bound by that.”

(Mark A. Kellner is a freelance journalist in Salt Lake City, where he previously served as an enterprise reporter at the Deseret News.)

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  • It seems to me that the people of Canada have a vested interest in seeing to it that no one has to sign any ridiculously-overreaching personal document in order to be trained any ANY law school to practice law in Canada. There is just nothing about a law school which confers any right for it to tell its students what their sexual practices will be.

  • So, in short, their much vaunted principles and morality really pretty much mean NOTHING when it comes to money.

    Good for the Supreme Court of Canada. Once again, the religious are claiming exceptions to the laws that govern everyone else. And once again in Canada, they have been slapped down. Imagine that! the beliefs and practices of fundelibangelists don’t automatically include everyone else!

  • So, in short, if you value freedom of religion, avoid living in nations of the former British Commonwealth of Nations, including Canada, Australia, and the UK.

    Without a First Amendment, in countries which currently or formerly had established churches, religious freedom will often be “slapped down”.

  • Unless those constitutional rights are trumped by the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

    Sometimes we cannot all be winners.

  • My Oxymoron Detecting Machine went crazy after scanning this here composite sentence from this article, because the word “Christian” in it doesn’t belong there. That’s the Oxymoron here:

    “The School of Law at Trinity Western University … [once] allow[ed by the law societies of Ontario and British Columbia] … to gain accreditation … would be Canada’s first private law school and first Christian law school.”

    Then it occurs to me. What if it reads, “first [worldy] Christian law school”, instead? Well, then, that’s more like it. And the Oxymoron’s gone.

  • I can’t speak for messed-up Canada. Apparently there’s no Bill of Rights religious freedom up there.

    But here in America, constitutional religious freedom is for real.

    (At least until the Democrats retake the White House.)

  • Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes religion. However at times certain rights can seem to conflict and it is up to the courts to determine if there any limits to exercising any right in specific situations. . There was a significant public element to this case

  • As it has turned out, Canada’s “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” – which incorporated much of the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights law into the preamble of the 1982 Constitution,has proved to be less robust than the American Bill of Rights, as this court ruling demonstrates.

  • That’s where the courts step in to make that determination. Unfortunately those rulings depend on the current leanings of said courts.

  • Bob Jones University has more draconian regulations. Both are private schools. What’s the difference?

  • Lately the government has shown its disdain for free speech re personal pronouns and anti-Islamic speech.

  • I think you mean “I finally read what he wrote to me over a dozen times, realized I cannot stand to be contradicted, and followed his advice and used the tool Disqus provides.”

    Slow beats never.

  • No, “messed-up Canada” is much less so than “messed-up [U.S. of A.].” Jesus’ Dogma on Church/State Separation is recognizable less in the latter than the former.

  • Block me too then just because you can, Goatee.

    I’ll never never never follow suit.

    You’re better than this.

    So don’t.

    I’m fasting now until you un-block our brother Bob Arnzen.

    And holding my breath.

    Pouting4Christ, like.

    (I’m expecting 99 out of 100 upvotes on this post, you’ll see.)

  • “S.L.O.W.”? “Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger”?

    YUP. Us, God’s Chosen People, sure are.

    Atheists, though? Nah so much.

    So sHtick around. I can change all that.

  • Thanks for showing everyone your true colors as a Christian supremacist. There’s nothing “chosen” about you. Christianity is nothing but a lifestyle choice that you could snap out of at any time.

  • Better how? Thoughtlessly that just auto-spills through your fingertips at the keyboard at the overrated price of one insult after another. So, like, be consistent & true to your namesake, after glitch-tweaking to “Insult Over Religion”.

    There’s not 0.666 ounce of “Reason” left in you, girl. Do better. Get better, ‘yo.

  • Definition of “Christian Supremacist” is hard to come by. Most mainstream media’s takes on it – like yours, Mommy Dearest – simply just name-drop it without ever defining it. But here’s the rare few, though, workable or not (but you’re welcome for this per usual free research for your adult-staged un-learning):

    (1) “‘Christian Supremacists’ … are committed to taking over the government of the United States of America.”

    (2) “The Christian supremacist movements and ‘citiziens’ militias’ recruit individuals on the basis of their radical political ideologies (e.g., opposition to the Internal Revenue Service, to legislation outlawing firearms, and to other expressions of the supposed despotism of the U.S. government). After the individual joins the militia, the turn to violence is then legitimized by appeals to arcane theological interpretations of scripture.”

    Source: (1) Ursula Faw, “Mike Pence Is A Theocrat: His Christian Supremacist Followers Seek To Take Over America: Seriously.”, Daily Kos, January 02, 2017. (2) R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

  • That’s cute. No one cares. But feel free to call me “mommy dearest” some more.

  • Canada used to be as much into Religious Freedom, and Church-State Separation, as America is.

    But Canada is now messed-up.“Canada has undergone rapid secularization, comparabble to that experienced by some Western European nations, while the United States has not.”

    Here’s what that means: In America, Christian universities who want their married student apartments to be heterosexual-only ( because the Bible absolutely opposes homosexual marriage), can apply to our government for a Title IX religious exemption.

    So America protects the Christian college’s Religious Freedom. Also protects Church-State Separation, because our government can’t force the Christian college to violate its own biblical beliefs & policies regarding legitimate marriage.

    But in Canada, the government says it can force the Christian schools to violate their own written beliefs & policies, and force them to directly bow down to the Cult of Secularism. No more Church-State Separation. No more Religious Freedom.

  • The reason I blocked Bob is that he made it abundantly clear he planned to tag onto most of my original posts with an argument—–literally refusing to just mind his own business and write his own ideas without me involved. Since I usually try to reply to people who reply to me, I can’t afford his level of time suck and morale suck from “the arguments that never end”.

  • We’ll all figure out how to talk to, and hopefully converse with, each other around here – is all I’m saying. Bob Arnzen & I have had our history, just as you and I have. Oh and there was one who always dropped HPOO on my comment. And now there’s the amicable Charlotte N/A calling me a Christian Supremacist. Hey, it’s all good, ‘bro. I look at this way: one day I’ll be baking a pie for you and you’re going to give me your winning lottery ticket.

    Peace. (And you’re one great advocate of that around St. RNS.)

  • The reason why I suggested FriendlyGoat block me is because he seemed unable to comprehend that this is a discussion forum, that ANY post is open to comment from ANYBODY, even after I provided both the Religions News and Disqus policies.

  • Well, that’s a fair question. To me, law and medicine, for instance, are rather “public” subjects where we reasonably should not expect substantial flavor and tone differences trained into graduates from one place vs. another place. All such lawyers and doctors are expected to practice without regard for whether they have a Bible world view or other world views. When a person has to sign unrelated mumbo-jumbo in order to receive these professional educations, the chances may be high that the educations are tainted. For instance, any lawyer or doctor who has signed covenants designed to portray LGBT people as “sinners” is NOT a true professional for either law or medicine. I think it is better for the Canadian court to do what it has done—–say NO to this nonsense at a professional graduate school, relieving any students of the obligation to lie about agreeing with whatever somebody put in fine print for no good reason. A voluntary “covenant” is another matter. But signing religious doctrine to be trained for law or medicine? Nope (IMHO).

  • Upvote for HpO, for:

    (1) refuting the “Supremacist” accusation.

    (2) issuing a “Mommy Dearest” alert.

  • No, “the Cult of Secularism” has nothing to do with the state of religious freedom in either country. The real reasons, rather, are these:

    (1) In “Religious freedom in Canada and the United States”, International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 4, Issue 2, April 1, 2006, Christopher L. Eisgruber and Mariah Zeisberg argue that, on the one hand, (1) “there are several constitutional differences—including differences with regard to the disestablishment of religion and the fragmentation of political authority into multiple jurisdictions—that might have affected levels of religiosity significantly”. On the other hand, however, (2) “in general, the religious freedom jurisprudence of the two countries is surprisingly convergent, but there is one important difference: the idea of a ‘strict separation of church and state’ pursuant to which any state support for religion or any state entanglement with religion is unconstitutional, has great power in the United States but little in Canada. Discrepancies between Canadian and American religious history have undoubtedly contributed to this difference.”

    (2) In “Religious Freedom and the State in Canada and the U.S.: A Comparative Analysis of Saguenay, Town of Greece, Loyola, and Hobby Lobby”, Legal Education Society of Alberta Constitutional Law Symposium, October 23, 2015, Ranjan Agarwal and Katharine J. Fisher of Bennett Jones LLP “argue that, because Canada and the U.S. are guided by different legal frameworks and principles, their courts diverged on these decisions affecting religious freedom notwithstanding the similar issues in dispute. … Recent judgments show that the SCOTUS is prepared to go further than its Canadian counterpart to protect the exercise of religious freedom and preserve national history.”

  • Thanks for kind words. I am willing to debate all day with nearly everyone about ideas, but have lost my comment-section patience with those who want to have the daily “fight”.

  • Constitutional freedoms do exist and do not support your desire to use religion to attack others.

    Religious freedom is under attack by folks like you. Those who wish to establish their religion as a law unto itself.

  • Canada takes its law schools more seriously. Accreditation being important due to the public service/access to government aspects of the legal profession. Canada also didn’t have private law schools before this one.

  • This, of course, disregards the reality of advocacy law:

    and so on.

    Lawyers and doctors in the USA are not expected to practice without any views.

    Lawyers, in particular, are often advocates.

    But this Canadian case is altogether on a different topic than views of attorneys. It deals with a Christian university’s attempt to require that students refrain from sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. That, according to Canada’s Supreme Court, risks harm to LGBTQ people, so “The decision prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school. These individuals would have to deny who they are for three years to receive a legal education.”

    Here is the decision:

    The decision is consistent with the view of religious freedom in the countries of the former British Commonwealth of Nations, which includes Canada and Australia, which differs substantially from the American view.

    In the Commonwealth view, nations which until quite recently had an established Church, either the Church of England or a local affiliate, freedom of religion involves the freedom to practice your religion at home, to form a church or synagogue or mosque or temple, but your ability to speak about it or act on it may be restricted, sometimes drastically.

    Here is the relevant section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Canadian Constitution of 1982:

    “2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:”

    “(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

    (d) freedom of association.”

    In the United States, in a case like this, as long as the law school met all the requirements for licensing in terms of academic standards, course work, professorial excellence, a decision like this by a lower court would be overturned at some appellate level as interference in religion, which our First Amendment forbids outright.

  • Sorry. Typo there. I meant “God’s cozened people”.

    … What? There. Dictionary under your couch potato chips.

    Cozened, aren’t I.

  • This all started when, at one of anti-Sessions news talk, she called me a Pizzagater after I gave her CNN’s article reporting the Motherless Foreign Boy in the Cage viral photo she was sensationalizing, wasn’t real.

  • Seems to me that if “SCOTUS is prepared to go further than its Canadian counterpart to protect the exercise of religious freedom”
    (and indeed, today’s RNS article serves as good proof of that!),
    then two things are true:

    (1) Religious Freedom is being Crash-&-Burned in Canada, and therefore Canada is messing up.

    (2) Canada got heavily secularized at high speed, comparable to Western Europe, as was stated. End result: Canada no longer has Church-State Separation in the same sense as America does, but something badly different.

    In Canada, there IS an official state-supported religion now. The Cult of Secularism.

  • I have no idea why you keep patting yourself on the back for refusing to read anything that debunks your nonsense.

  • There is no cult of secularism. Christianity is a doomsday/fertility cult with a fetish for cannibalism and snuff porn.

  • My two sources, proving your point to be sure, are meant also to affirm my Christ-centered disapproval of “SCOTUS … protect[ing] the exercise of religious freedom” that only God & Jesus must protect. They promised that to us in Person! Not via Proxy, in the dragon-like hands of this, this, this unholy thing, “SCOTUS”. I wish to God the US government abandon His people, and now. So like our Canadian brothers and sisters, the church can be on their own with God & Jesus.

    No, I support the ruling against that EVER-WORLDLY CHRISTIAN LAW SCHOOL. That’s quite a mouthful of OXYMORONS right there, I tell you.

    2 things I’m guessing about them: (1) They’re a bunch of worldly Christian Reformed. (2) They’re American Christian-Wannabees.

  • Confirm for me, then, that you don’t need the help of that dictionary to get to the meaning of “Christians, God’s chosen people”, in contrast to that of “Christians, God’s Cozened People”.

    Prove it. What’s the radical difference between the two, other than the spelling?

  • What’s the point of claiming that you are “God’s chosen people” if you mean something completely different? You should say what you mean, and mean what you say. Though, I realize that’s a tall order for those who actually believe that a virgin can give birth.

  • Secularism is the basis of religious freedom. To attack it is to say that you oppose free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state. Given your desire for special privileges for Christians to attack others in the name of their faith, it is clear you neither understand or appreciate religious freedom.

  • In other words, being contradicted sets you off.

    It had absolutely nothing to do with “I can’t afford his level of time suck”.

  • Secularism is not the basis for religious freedoms. Rather it is God: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Declaration of Independence

  • We’ll, he claims to block those people. Evidence is pretty slim that he actually does. I can see him now…

    Ma! Ma! Someone said something incorrect on the internet! I’ll be up later for dinner.”

  • I think the university would be well advised to refrain from trying to regulate people’s sex lives.

  • Except this has nothing to do with religion. Discrimination is not a religious act. The call to the law is a special case. Anyone with a commitment to harm LGBTs should never be permitted a law license. Of course, that would mean President Trump would lose the services of Jay Sekulow and other extremists, but no reputable firm would hire a fascist like Sekulow to scrub the toilets, anyhow.

  • Discrimination is not a religion act. What you are describing has nothing to do with freedom to practice religion only freedom to be an orifice.

  • Your statement is garbage. You are trying to say religious freedom exists for nobody except those who believe as you do.

    “Their Creator” is a blank phrase you could use anything for. Your version of God, Allah, Buddha, Flying Spaghetti Monster….

    It is neutral to any given faith and secular in meaning and intent. Secular is not synonymous with atheist. It actually has religious roots in Christian sects you have no respect for. Demanding a wall of separation between church and state to protect both, as propounded by Roger Williams a century before the Declaration.

  • Your statement is garbage.

    Wow, an all purpose response!

    No, “Their Creator” is not a blank phrase you could use anything for unless you believe Thomas Jefferson was a nincompoop and so were the Founders.

  • Bob, read Madison’s Memorial And Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments and his Advice to my Country.

  • Those founders you speak of specifically warned against tyranny by the majority. I guess someone forgot to tell the Christians.

  • “Your statement is garbage.”

    And there goes BobbyJo Arnzen Carioca again, attempting to fling abuse while inadvertently describing his own posts in general.

  • Yet, but we are headed that good way, BobbyJo. Your bigoted Christian cult is in steep decline. Glad to see it winding down.

  • Why, was Madison on the Supreme Court?

    Did he have anything beyond a personal opinion?

  • Wrong. First freedom of religion is protected. Christian schools can bu virtue of that freedom, exclude anyone who does not share their specific doctrinal beliefs from attending or working in their school. (Neither of my children who are teachers could teach in most such institutions because they belong to a different denomination) This is because they are a Christian school/organization serving other Christians but this bona fide exclusion does not hold true for lawyers called to the bar by the provincial law society which holds all lawyers accountable to a specific code of conduct as well as reviewing academic qualifications. It was a membership vote that precluded acceptance of potential graduates being called to the bar. No idea as to why – perhaps the law program was deemed inadequate, perhaps the ability to fulfill the oath of practicing law without bias The government actually gave the university 22 million for building purposes. They could still offer a law program but the grads would be limited in their ability to practice law – perhaps as a legal consultant rather than a full-fledged lawyer. And the code stood for teachers which are also provincially accredited but the reverse was true – he code stood as no impediment. And government internships are available to some students. So this is not the government of Canada’s doing.

    On an individual level, people are entitled to be granted time off work for up to 7 holy days a year. So for instance, I was free to leave work for Ash Wednesday services. The same would hold true for people of other faiths – called religious accommodation and employers have a duty to accommodate.

  • It probably has more to do with educational attainment – with double = in fact the highest = number of working age adults with a degree = double that of the US. But the decline in religious practice is also seen in the US with greater education in the US. But also greater diversity and a policy of multiculturalism.

  • Madison was the main architect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and Virginia’s religious liberty. His opinion is worth infinitely more than yours.

  • The Supreme Court’s decisions are worth infinitely more than his opinion, my opinion, or your opinion.

    We’ve been through this before, previously with Thomas Jefferson’s personal opinion.

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