Religious hate speech/discrimination in Canada
Part 1: Concerns about Trinity Western
University law school, British Columbia
We use the acronym "SSM" throughout this section to represent "same-sex marriage"
We use the acronym "LGBT" to refer to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons
and transsexuals. The acronym "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.
The religious freedom, as perceived by Christian conservatives in Canada, has taken another hit. As is becoming increasingly common, it is not the religious freedom to hold and speak about their religious beliefs, to assemble with others, to proselytize, etc. that is under attack. It is the new, emerging definition of religious freedom: the freedom to discriminate against, denigrate, and oppress minorities, with impunity.
In this case, the perpetrator is a conservative Christian university and the victims are lesbians, gays and bisexuals, liberal/progressive Christians and non-Christians.
Trinity Western University (TWU) describes themselves as "... a Christian University of the arts, sciences, and professions." 1 It is a private religious university and as such is exempt under the BC human rights code. Thus elements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's Constitution -- do not apply to it. The University is planning to add a law school -- the first Christian law school in Canada.
On 2013-FEB-28, prominent Canadian lawyer, Clayton Ruby, wrote a letter with three other lawyers to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. It asked the federation to block the accreditation of the proposed Christian law school at
TWU because the latter discriminates against persons with a homosexual orientation. Ruby said:
"It is just wrong to have a law school approve discrimination in its own structure. That kind of discrimination which denies some people the right to equality is fundamentally inconsistent with law and democracy. ... This alone makes it incompetent to deliver legal education in the public interest." 2
All students at TWU must sign a "Community in Covenant" contract in which they must accept:
"... the Bible as the divinely inspired, authoritative guide for person and community life."
This clause would exclude all all ethical non-Christians and most or all liberal/progressive Christians from attending the university simply because they believe that the Bible is a human document. However, that is not the topic being debated at this time.
Another clause in the contract requires students to abstain from same-sex intimacy. Violations can result in discipline, expulsion, or the refusal of readmission. It requires that all students abstain:
"... from sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
This clause has been heavily criticized because it would ban all sexual behavior among students and would seem to make it impossible for either or both spouses who are in a same-sex marriage to be accepted or remain at TWU. The exclusion of any student who is not a conservative Christian has not received the same level of condemnation.
In late 2013-JAN, deans from law schools across Canada wrote a similar letter. Bill Flanagan, dean of law at Queen's University at Kingston, ON and president of the Canadian Council of Law Deans said:
"In our view, this is a covenant that clearly contemplates discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." 2
In an earlier development during 2011, the British Columbia College of Teachers refused to accredit TWU because such an action would violate its own discrimination policy. A lawsuit resulted which was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada. Ruby said:
"The court said that what they're doing is discrimination against the human rights code of BC. ..."
However, because of a religious exemption in the province that allows faith groups to freely discriminate, the school was accredited.
Associate Professor Janet Epp Buckingham at TWU is one of the faculty who is developing the law school proposal. She has said that Christians at secular law schools are often "marginalized" and taught that people of faith are "irrational." 3 She interprets the Supreme Court decision in a different way. She said:
"I would argue what the court said was that TWU, as a Christian university, had the right to have Christian principles as a foundation for the university. ... We do not exclude gays and lesbians from our campus; we are not violating Canadian law." 2
At a talk show Jonathan Raymond, the president of TWU said that there are lesbian and gay students on campus, that the ideals in the covenant are an important part of TWU's identity, and that:
"a mountain is being made out [of] a molehill. ... There’s nowhere in any document that we say something hostile towards gays or lesbians."
He was asked what TWU's reaction would be towards a married same-sex couple were found to be students. He responded: "I don't know. Do you know why? It’s the beginning of a conversation. It’s never happened."
Webmaster's personal note: Bias alert
I agree that a law school should not be accredited at any university that discriminates on the basis of their students' sexual orientation. However, I feel that the larger problem with Trinity Western University is that it discriminates against:
- Students who take a liberal or progressive view towards the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible,
- Students who view all the major religions of the world as containing truth, and
- Students who are not Christian but might want to specialize in legal cases involving religious faith.
The rejection of LGBTs by TWU is certainly a serious problem. But the wholesale rejection of probably most of the Canadian population of university-aged students is by far the larger problem. I would suggest that the accreditation of all schools within TWU should be carefully examined.
2014-APR: The proposed (TWU) law school was accredited in BC but refused accreditation in Ontario:
On APR-11, Trinity Western's law school was accredited by the Law Society of British Columbia in spite of more than 1,100 petitions sent to the Society. On APR-24, the Law Society of Upper Canada voted to deny accreditation. This is the first time in history that the Law Societies across Canada have not come to a consensus on accreditation. This decision would prohibit graduates of the law school from applying to the Ontario bar. That is a serious disadvantage because a sizeable percentage of the Canadian population lives in Ontario. Also, about half of Canada's lawyers live there. 4 The vote by the Society benchers (directors) was 28 opposed, 21 in favor, and one abstention.
Ontario Law Society treasurer Thomas Conway said:
"This decision was a difficult one. Benchers took this issue very seriously and did not find it easy to reach a decision."
Bencher Raj Anand said that the community covenant is legally flawed. He said:
"To prevent a student from manifesting his or her own sexual identity is itself a violation of the [Canadian] Human Rights Code."
Bencher Howard Goldblatt said:
"I cannot accept that it would be in the public interest to accredit an institution ... which does not accept and embrace quality amongst individuals who choose to practice or live a sexual orientation that might not be 'biblical'."
Bencher Harvey Strosberg said:
"Maybe the covenant is good or bad or ugly, but the covenant is clothed by freedom of religion." 5
And so we have one more example of a religiously conservative group exercising its religious freedom to discriminate against a sexual minority and a religious minority.
The school plans to open in 2016 following conditional approval by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and a go-ahead from the British Columbia government and British Columbia Law Society.
The Nova Scotia Barrister's Society scheduled a vote on accreditation on APR-25. The Law Society of New Brunswick is scheduled to hold a vote during 2014-JUN.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "2013 News," Trinity Western University," 2013, at: https://twu.ca/news/
- Jeff Green, "Proposed Christian law school should be denied accreditation, Clayton Ruby says," Toronto Star, 2013-MAR-01, at: http://www.thestar.com/
- Douglas Todd. "TWU dispute stirs debate over spirituality in higher education," The Vancouver Sun, 2013-FEB-16, at: http://blogs.vancouversun.com/
- John Dehaas, "Proposed law schools in Newfoundland and B.C. move forward," Maclean's, 2013-DEC-17, at: http://www.macleans.ca/
- Jane Gerster, "Law Society votes against accrediting controversial Christian law school," Toronto Star, 2014-APR-24, at: http://www.thestar.com/
Copyright © 2013 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2013-MAR-02
Latest update: 2014-APR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson