Religiously motivated hate speech/discrimination in Canada
2017 to 2019: The Supreme
Trinity Western (TWU) law
2017-NOV-30: Joint hearings begin:
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC) are co-intervening in the two cases, which are called:
- Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, and
- Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia Society.
TWU has a policy of discriminating against students and potential students who are either:
- Unmarried and sexually active with same-sex or opposite-sex partners, or
- Married and of the same sex.
The term "Upper Canada" refers to what is now southern Ontario. The Society is now named the "Law Society of Ontario."
Because of this policy, some provincial law societies across Canada have denied accreditation to the university. This prevents their graduates from practicing laws in those provinces.
The EFC and CHEC are conservative Christian agencies. Both appear to sincerely believe that "freedom of religion" should extend beyond freedom of religious belief, speech, assembly, proseltizing, etc. It should also include the religious freedom of TWU to actively discriminate against sexually active students and potential students based on their marital status and/or sexual orientation.
By coincidence, the U.S. Supreme Court heared a similar case during 2017-DEC. It was also based on whether religious freedom extends to include the religious freedom to discriminate. A baker in Colorado refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The refusal was based on the baker's conservative Christian religious beliefs. In this case, the High Court sidestepped the real issue. They only ruled that the baker had been unfairly treated by the Colorado Human Rights Commission. We will have to wait for a different lawsuit to determine whether U.S. stores are free to discriminate against customers based on the owner's sincere religous reasons.
In Canada, the two agencies issued a joint statement saying that they will argue that:
- "Religious beliefs are manifest in community, and from ancient times Christian communities have self-defined through statements of faith and codes of conduct.
- Religious freedom includes the freedom for voluntary communities to determine their beliefs and practices.
- In a free society government agencies should not force religious minorities that are acting lawfully to change their doctrine or the character of their communities.
- Religious communities acting lawfully should not be denied government recognition or benefits.
- Religious persons and communities do not surrender their Charter rights when they enter the public sphere."
EFC President Bruce Clemenger said:
"Christian institutions are usually founded on statements of faith and codes of conduct. They are essential parts of their identity, the codes are consistent with Canadian law and should be respected in a free and democratic society.
No one is disputing TWU’s ability to provide an excellent law school education and produce graduates who will serve Canadians well. Accreditation should not be withheld because some members of a law society do not like TWU’s covenant or their religious beliefs. Government agencies are to neither favor nor hinder religious beliefs. 1
CHEC Executive Director Justin Cooper said:
"Religious institutions make significant contributions to the public good in Canada and are an important part of the Canadian mosaic. An essential element of living in a free, diverse and plural society is the affirmation of religious freedom and the ability of religious communities to contribute meaningfully to the broader society. TWU has been doing this for decades." 1
2018-JUN-15: The Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling against Trinity Western University (TWU) Law School's religiously motivated discrimination:
The Court of Appeal for Ontario had upheld the rejection of TWU's policy of discrimination, while the top court in the province of British Columbia -- where the university is located -- ruled in favor of TWU's policy of religious discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The Justices of Canada's High Court ruled by a 7 to 2 margin that Trinity's policy was unfair to LGBTQ students, and that the university cannot establish a law school with the covenant in place. Their ruling stated, in part:
"LGBTQ individuals would have fewer opportunities relative to others. This undermines true equality of access to legal education. ... if LGBTQ students signed the Covenant to gain access to TWYU, they would have to ... live a lie to obtain a degree." 2
The court ruling said that it is "proportionate and reasonable" to limit schools' religious rights to discriminate in order to ensure open access for LGBT students. 3
"In our respectful view, the [law societies'] decision not to accredit Trinity Western University's proposed law school represents a proportionate balance between the limitation on the Charter right at issue and the statutory objectives the [law societies] sought to pursue."
Janet Epp Buckingham, a spokesperson for Trinity, responded:
"It does look like religious freedom can be restricted by equality rights." 2
She also said:
"We feel that this is a loss for diversity in Canada. Canada has traditionally upheld values of diversity for a broad array of religious views. So we're very disappointed in the way the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled today."
She apparently believes that to allow all sexually active students whether heterosexuals, bisexuals, or homosexuals, who are either married or single into the University would lessen its diversity.
Also on JUN-15, Earl Phillips, executive director of TWU’s proposed law school, said:
"We feel this is a lost opportunity for Canadians, many of whom do not have affordable access to justice.
"There are only three common law schools in Canada that offer a course in charity law. The TWU law school would have offered a specialty in charity law. Because Canada has the second largest charitable and non-profit sector in the world, this loss stands to impact Canadians coast to coast." 4
Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, ON said that the decision: "... delivers an insurmountable blow to religious freedom."
Ian Bushfield, the executive director of the BC Humanist Association said they were celebrating the the decision and that it affirms that freedom of religion does not trump equality rights. He issued a statement saying:
"We’re overjoyed to see that none of the justices on the court sought to open the door to institutional religious rights. We’ve seen how claims of religious freedom are being used to roll back decades of progress on human rights and anti-discrimination legislation in the USA and it’s reassuring to know that Canada’s highest court has bucked that trend." 4
The High Court ruling only restricts the "religious freedom to discriminate" against others. In no way does it restrict the religious freedom to believe, speak, write, assemble, proselytize, etc. By restricting the university's freedom to discriminate, the Court is requiring the Law School to follow the Golden Rule which states that people are to treat others as they would wish to be treated by others. Jesus requires all Christians to follow this rule. Sodo many other world religions.
2018-JUN: Solution proposed for TWU's desire to discriminate:
Leaders at Trinity Western considered making the signing of their community covenant optional. Earl Phillips, executive director of their School of Law said:
"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. 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." 5
If the signing of the Covenant were to be made optional, then TWU's law school might become Canada’s first private law school as well as the country's first Christian law school. 5
Another option might be for the covenant to be converted into a simple statement by the University of how they would prefer their students to act while attending school.
2018-JUN-15: The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provincial law societies could refuse accreditation of TWU university graduates:
The Court issued two rulings, both by a vote of 7 to 2. They found that the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario could refuse accreditation to graduates of the proposed Trinity Western University's law school (TWU) because of content of TWU's community covenant.
Michael L. Brown, writing for Life Site News, said:
In effect, what the court declared is that universities must choose between biblical standards and accreditation [of their students by provincial law societies.] Put another way, the court ruled that Christianity and higher education are incompatible. I am not exaggerating in the least." 6
Brown is not referring to the beliefs of all of the approximately 40,000 Christian denominations and faith groups. He is referring only to the restrictive beliefs of many conservative Christian groups towards sexual orientation and other aspects of human sexuality.
In reality, the university cannot require students to abstain from all behavior that it describes as involving:
"... sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman"
without threatening their accreditation with provincial law societies.
TWU's requirement apparently includes both sexual activity on campus outside of marriage, and within a same-sex marriage.
Jim Bronskill, writing for the National Post, said:
"... the high court said law societies in Ontario and British Columbia were entitled to ensure equal access to the bar, support diversity and prevent harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.
The cases pitted two significant societal values — freedom of religion and promotion of equality — against one another." 7
Janet Epp Buckingham, a political studies professor at TWU helped develop the proposal to create a law school at TWU. She said:
"This is something that has been a dream of mine for 25 years. We will not be starting a law school in the near future, and we will have to consider our options to determine how we’re going to go forward with this." 7
Earl Phillips, who would have been the executive director of the proposed Law School said in a statement:
"All Canadians should be troubled by today’s decision that sets a precedent for how the courts will interpret and apply charter rights and equality rights going forward." 7
As of 2019-MAR, TWU's Student Handbook still contains section 4, a list of "prohibited conduct.' It includes a statement at 4:b:v:
"Sexual impropriety – As a matter of respect and consideration for TWU’s Christian beliefs and values, students are expected to refrain from immodest public displays of affection and from sexual intimacy outside of marriage on campus." 8
It is unclear whether TWU defines marriage as restricted to one woman and one man, or whether they also include two married persons of the same sex. It is also not obvious whether they are referring to biological sex or gender identity. We have emailed TWU requesting clarification, but do not expect a response.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Media Release: Evangelicals Argue For Religious Freedom At The Supreme Court," Wire Service, 2017-NOV-30, at: https://www.wireservice.ca/
- Hannah Thibedeau, "Supreme Court rules Trinity Western University's planned law school unfair to LGBT students," Microsoft, 2018-JUN-16, at https://www.msn.com/
- Kathleen Harris, "Trinity Western loses fight for Christian law school as court rules limits on religious freedom 'reasonable'," CBC, 2018-JUN-15, at: https://www.cbc.ca/
- Jim Bronskill, "Supreme Court of Canada rules against Trinity Western University over law school graduates," 2018-JUN-15, Vancouver Sun, at: http://vancouversun.com/
- Mark A. Kellner, "After Canadian court ruling, Christian law school re-evaluates community covenant," Religious News Service, 2018-JUN-22, at: https://religionnews.com/
- Michael Brown, "Canada’s top court rules that biblical Christian views are not part of ‘diversity’," Life Site News, 2018-JUN-19, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
- Jim Bronskill, "Trinity Western University 'will not be starting a law school in the near future' following court ruling," National Post, 2018-JUN-15, at: https://nationalpost.com/
- "4. Prohibited Conduct," TWU Student Handbook, as on 2019-MAR-10, at: https://www.twu.ca/
Copyright © 2017 & 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2017-NOV-30
Latest update: 2019-MAR-10
Author: B.A. Robinson