Canadian court denies religious freedom to Christian law school

The Supreme Court of Canada dealt a major blow to religious freedom Friday (June 15), ruling that law societies in Canada may deny accreditation to a Christian law school.

The judgment comes after a long legal battle in several provinces.

Trinity Western University’s law school asks students and faculty to follow its “Community Covenant” based on biblical views of appropriate sexual behavior on campus. Some law societies deemed the covenant discriminatory, leading to a denial of accreditation.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has abandoned the promise of freedom that led to the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 36 years ago. Individuals will need to turn to their legislators to protect freedom of religion,” said Gerald Chipeur, Q.C., of the Canadian firm Miller Thompson, LLP.

Two justices, Russell Brown and Suzanne Côté, dissented, expressing the view that “legislatively accommodated and Charter-protected religious practices, once exercised, cannot be cited by a state-actor as a reason justifying the exclusion of a religious community from public recognition. Approval of [Trinity Western University’s] proposed law school would not represent a state preference for evangelical Christianity, but rather a recognition of the state’s duty—which [the Law Society of British Columbia] failed to observe—to accommodate diverse religious beliefs without scrutinizing their content.”

The Canadian Supreme Court heard two appeals out of Ontario and British Columbia. While Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon, and Nova Scotia have agreed to recognize the school’s graduates, Ontario denied recognition and Trinity Western appealed. In British Columbia, the local law society appealed.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Trinity Western in Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia and stated that this case demonstrated how “a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.” After the law society appealed, the Supreme Court heard both appeals together in December 2017.

“Religious universities and schools should be free to operate according to the faith they teach and to which they adhere,” said Paul Coleman, Alliance Defending Freedom’s International Executive Director.

“We are deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. Freedom of religion and association is not only essential for faith-based organizations, but for the functioning of democracy itself. Following this ruling, that vital freedom is now in jeopardy,” said Coleman.

ADF International allied lawyers represented multiple groups in the Trinity Western cases over several years, including the submission of written filings and oral arguments.

— CNJ staff report

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