Students oppose Christian university's law school proposal over homophobia

A debate about religious freedom versus queer rights continued on as over one thousand law students and alumni from eight Canadian law schools expressed opposition to a Langley Christian university's proposed law school.

Trinity Western University submitted a proposal for accreditation to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in June 2012.

From March 12 to 18, coalitions of students and alumni from the University of Victoria, University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Saskatchewan, York University, University of Ottawa, Université du Québec à Montréal, and Dalhousie University submitted letters to the Federation of Canadian Law Societies. The letters raised concerns about TWU's Community Covenant which requires students to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman". Premarital sex and homosexuality would be grounds for students to be disciplined, refused admission, or expelled.

Approximately 230 UBC law students and alumni supported criticism of the legality of TWU's Community Covenant by Dean Bill Flanagan and the Canadian Council of Law Deans. They also expressed concerns about how enforcement of the covenant would affect law school experiences. The reduction of diverse opinions, the UBC coalition letter points out, would reduce critical and analytical skills. Another area of concern was the discriminatory manner in which access to legal education would be provided.

University of Victoria law students pointed out in their letter that the covenant discriminates against queer students by permitting married heterosexual couples to engage in sexual intimacy but not homosexual couples in legally recognized marriages (same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005).

The BC Civil Liberties Association, however, has taken a different position.

The BCCLA stated that they acknowledge that the Community Covenant "clearly discriminates against lesbian, gay and bisexual students" and that they do not endorse this practice. However, in contrast to the CCLD, they argue that Trinity Western's proposal should be considered on its merits, not on grounds that would violate the freedom of religion and the freedom of association of the school's community.

The BCCLA also differentiates between the freedom to hold beliefs and the freedom to act upon them.

In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, former UBC OUTLaws cochair Dustin Klaudt expressed concerns about religious freedom outweighing protection from discrimination.

"There certainly has to be a balance. Freedom of religion has its place. But in the context of the Community Convenant, there is no real balance. There's no real accommodation in the sense that the covenant seeks to bar people from expressing their sexual orientation altogether. It's kind of an attack on their identity. It's an assertion, and it's kind of like an absolute form of the assertion of freedom of religion, without taking into account the equality rights. So I would contend that it's not balancing at all."

The BCCLA points out that the core issue is the recognition and protection of the constitutional rights of private educational institutions, as opposed to public law schools, formed by religious or conscience-based groups. But Klaudt argued that unique aspects of this case need to be recognized.

"The legal profession is publicly regulated by the Law Society and graduates of Trinity Western will be seeking that public approval so the body that does approve has to take in public considerations….Part of the problem is yes, the Charter doesn't apply to a private university in the context nor does human rights legislation because of section 41 exemption. But the question is this is a specific context that's different than what has been considered and does that make it more public or private?"

The Canadian Bar Association, in a letter dated March 18, stated that the recognition of law degrees by law societies must be taken into consideration.

"Based  on  the  delegations  of  power  from  its  constituent  law  societies,  the  Federation  has  a  duty  to  go beyond  a  strict  determination  of  a  proposed  law  school’s  compliance  with  the  national  standards. It must  assess  whether  the  institution  and  its  program  complies  with  Canadian  law,  including  the  protections  afforded  by  the  Canadian  Charter  of  Rights  and  Freedoms  and  the  human  rights  legislation  in  B.C.,  and  in  every  province  and  territory  where  a  proposed  law  degree  may  be  recognized  by  the  law  societies  for  admission  to  bar."  

Klaudt also added that the approximately 230 straight and queer students and alumni who signed the UBC letter included students of various religions, including Christians.

"A lot of the Christians who I've talked to have expressed frustration that this is a fairly radical view of Christianity and it's kind of trying to paint them all with one brush as being homophobic. And it's unfortunate that in society today we still have this dichotomy that you can be LGBT or you can be Christian but you can't be both….Ultimately, someone who wishes to be an open member of the LGBT member could not there and that opinion is very likely to be foreclosed altogether from the discussion."

Comments (11) Add New Comment
David L.
Homophobic idiots, get a grip on reality
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Rating: +9
Hazlit
As an American I want to warn Canadians about the wisdom of allowing the expansion of a private university. It may not seem like it, but each time a private university grows (e.g. builds a law school) it legitimizes privatizing education and encourages cutbacks in educational funding from the government. Among other things TWU will help promote economic discrimination.
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Will Jackson
TWU is an embarrassment and should me marginalized and excluded until it gives up its shameful bigotry veiled by the bogus claims of 'religious freedom.'

These concerned law students are absolutely correct, and should be congratulated on working to protect the reputation of their profession.

I, for one, find it hard to believe TWU graduates even get jobs. Who would hire a person who goes to a 'university' where faith takes precedent over reason? This is antithetical to the very idea of advanced education.
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Aaron
And another question is, how much public funding does this supposedly "private" institution receive?
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Pamela Third
Shouldn't we be more far-sighted about this? Isn't the real issue whether Canadian law schools in general should any longer be part of Universities (in the big 'U' sense)?
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cuz
So you leftwing nuts oppose this on the grounds of bigotry, yet that is exactly what you are expressing. Look in the mirror you hypocrites!!!
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just me and my opinion
Wow... I guess freedom of religion and personal beliefs are only valid if they agree with the masses. I think a university should have the freedom and right to establish and teach what they believe. The students have a CHOICE to attend there. Choice is good right? Or should we all be forced to believe Christian values?
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Forest
As a tenured professor in a long-standing Canadian university, I am still taken aback by the accreditation of TW as a university. (Ditto for Emily Carr School of Art). Private faith-based schools have no evidence of merit (peer-reviewed research, peer-reviewed teaching) in post-secondary education. They do make money however, and that is the basis by which they were given accreditation by the Liberal provincial government.
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Jeff R
Choice is good. Hate is not.
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e.a.f.
If we support this "appliction" to have a law school at a university based on religion, specifically the Christian religion then how can we deny a tribal Muslim school to do like wise? We would be denying them their right to freedom of religion.

To approve law schools at faith based universities is opening pandora's box. How will clients actually know if they are hiring a lawyer who is able and willing to practice law in a multi cultural, multi faith society which is not based on one religion. To grant trinity college a law school is the slippery slope to a faith based law system. we have already seen how a faith based federal conservative government is not working so well for many who do not share the P.M.'s views or some members of his party.
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bowser
A lot of bigotry and hatred against Christians being posted. Look, Every action of lawyers is covered by legal codes. If someone violates those codes, they are held to "professional" standards. So how you obtain a law degree isn't relevant. As for whether a lawyer will act in your best interest - well, almost all lawyers act in their best interests first, then maybe yours. Regardless of where they got their degree. I once had a lawyer tell me that his school taught him that everything the police did was wrong. Talk about serious prejudice. And he got his degree at a non Christian law school. Stop bringing your prejudicial attitudes to the conversation and try to be as openminded as you are asking Christians to be. I am not a Christian, I just hate to see any group attacked just for being around. Compassion is what you haters ask for, but you'tre not willing to show any.
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