May 12, 2014
The decision of the Law Society of Upper Canada to bar graduates of a planned law school at B.C.'s evangelical Trinity Western University from practising law in Ontario should be abhorrent not only to all religious believers, but to all concerned about protecting the human dignity of Canadians.
It is difficult to see this decision as anything but an attempt to narrow the range of public discourse in such a way that would exclude explicitly Christian universities from training and forming members of the legal profession. While there are, of course, thousands of committed Christians serving as lawyers and judges across Canada, TWU would be the only Christian university actually to train lawyers.
At issue is TWU's community covenant that requires students to abstain from a range of behaviours, including sexual intimacy "that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
Some have seen this clause as a licence for bigotry and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) individuals despite an explicit statement by the university that the dignity of all people irrespective of sexual orientation is now part of the fabric of professional ethics and the rule of law in Canada.
Objections have been raised that a law school at a Christian university would be incapable of appropriately teaching legal ethics, constitutional and human rights law, that it would not school its students in critical thinking and that it would not respect academic freedom. It would also mean fewer opportunities for LGBT persons to study law.
Prior to the current furor, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada set up a special advisory committee of five legal experts to examine the objections to TWU's establishment of a law school. The committee's December 2013 report rejecting all of the above objections is available on the Internet to anyone who wants to examine the issue.
The report noted there are 50 religiously-affiliated law schools in the United States, the majority of which have been approved by the American Bar Association. At least some of those schools have codes of conduct more restrictive than that of TWU.
Christian lawyers and judges across Canada might find it amusing, if not offensive, that so many of their colleagues presume that a religious orientation makes one incapable of critical thought as well as properly understanding legal ethics and constitutional and human rights law. Indeed, the basic notion of human rights is a Christian contribution to public discourse, albeit based on a different philosophical background than is in current vogue.
As the advisory committee noted, there is no evidence that the Trinity Western law program would encourage discrimination or would fail to uphold the law. The university's only sin, it would seem, is the unforgiveable one of being Christian.
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