Lawyers vote against Christian law school

Decision is the latest setback for Trinity Western University


VANCOUVER — Lawyers in British Columbia have rejected a Christian university’s plans to open a law school — a result that, while not binding, represents a strong rebuke of the school’s policies forbidding sex outside heterosexual marriage.

The vote is the latest setback for Trinity Western University, a school with about 4,000 students in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and is sure to amplify an ongoing debate over the rights of a private institution to impose its religious views about homosexuality on students.

The university, which plans to open a law school in the fall of 2016, requires students to sign a so-called community covenant. The document includes a passage that forbids sex outside of marriage, defined as between a man and a woman, and students can be disciplined for violating it.

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Law Society of B.C.’s benchers have already voted to accept graduates of Trinity Western, which has also been accredited by the province’s Advanced Education Ministry.

But more than a thousand B.C. lawyers signed a petition asking that the issue be put to the B.C. society’s general membership, which happened at various locations through the province on Tuesday.

Lawyers voted 3,210 to 968 in favour of a motion calling on the society’s benchers to reject the school.

The vote doesn’t have any immediate effect, but the results will likely put considerable pressure on the law society’s benchers to reconsider their earlier decision.

If the benchers don’t substantially implement the results of the vote within a year, lawyers can submit another petition that could trigger a binding referendum.

Trinity Western has also faced resistance elsewhere.

The Law Society of Upper Canada’s board of directors voted not to accredit graduates from the school, while the council of Nova Scotia’s law society voted not to accredit graduates unless the school either exempts law students from its covenant or removes the offending passage from the document.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Trinity Western president Bob Kuhn urged the law society not to stand in the way of the university’s plans.

“What is at stake here is the right to hold a belief, unpopular as it may be, and maintain it as a standard, as an ethos for its university environment,” said Kuhn.

“A vote to disapprove TWU’s law school communicates to TWU, its religious community and many other men and women of faith that they’re not welcome to engage in the public square of Canadian pluralistic society.”

The school has launched legal challenges of the decisions in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

If the B.C. law society’s benchers implement Tuesday’s vote, a similar challenge is almost certain to be filed in the province. In addition, Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby has filed a lawsuit in B.C. objecting to the provincial government’s decision to accredit the school.

The issue could very well end up at the Supreme Court of Canada, which has previously ruled in the school’s favour on the very same issue.

In 2001, the court overturned a decision by the B.C.’s teachers’ college to reject the school’s teaching program.

The university’s president said the high court’s ruling remains the law, while opponents argued much has changed since the 2001 judgment, which occurred before a string of court cases that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Lawyers who spoke against the school on Tuesday frequently invoked historic struggles for the rights of black people, women and other groups, while also noting that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people still face discrimination today.

“I support religious freedom: you have every right to believe that I am a sinner,” barbara findlay, a self-described “lesbian lawyer” who spells her name in lowercase letters, told her colleagues.

“But when your discriminatory beliefs turn into actions that discriminate against me, then that’s where you’ve crossed the line.”

Lawyer Vicente Asuncion said students who disagree with the university’s community covenant can simply attend law school somewhere else.

“Law students have a choice to go to different universities, just like elementary and high school students have a choice go to public school or private school,” Asuncion told the meeting.

“In effect, (a vote against the school) will be saying that all lawyers in B.C. must believe in same sex marriage.”


Lawyers vote against Christian law school

  1. Good for the lawyers.

    • Agreed.

      With sophomoric arguments like that, they have no future in law anyway.

      • My view is that the sophomoric arguments are all on the other side. This is a shameful display of intolerance. How can anyone coming from a religious perspective expect justice in the courts.

    • Disgusting.

  2. “Law students have a choice to go to different universities, just like elementary and high school students have a choice go to public school or private school,” Asuncion told the meeting.

    I believe that’s called segregation. It goes like this: black people can still use a a water fountain, they just have to use a different one. It’s also a brazen example of circular logic, which goes like this: 1. Trinity Western discriminates against gays 2. So, gays probably wouldn’t want to go to Trinity Western 3. So, it’s okay that Trinity Western discriminates.

    • It would also mean that homosexuals would have less opportunity than heterosexuals to enter the legal profession, with one of the province’s law schools effectively closed off to them (unless they want to remain unmarried and celibate). That is why this is a matter for the Law Society to take seriously. One of its mandates it ensure that entry to the profession is equally open to all.

    • Trinity Western discriminates against no one. Gays are free to attend. It is a Christian school. Some might even benefit by attending. Your argument is flawed.

      • You need to familiarize yourself with the word “discriminate”. Telling homosexual couples that they can’t have sexual relations that aren’t sanctioned for heterosexual couples is indeed discrimination.

        • Only sanctioned for straights if married. So technically, any discrimination is solely limited to married gays.

          And even then, it only prevents them from attending THIS school – not any of the others. The overall increase in seats at law schools still means the married gay’s chances of acceptance at A law school will be increased (as seats that would otherwise have been taken at other schools by those who choose Trinity would now be freed up for others).

  3. “A vote to disapprove TWU’s law school communicates to TWU, its religious community and many other men and women of faith that they’re not welcome to engage in the public square of Canadian pluralistic society.”

    “In effect, (a vote against the school) will be saying that all lawyers in B.C. must believe in same sex marriage.”

    This vote means nothing of the sort. Christians would remain no less welcome and able to practice law, regardless of their views on same sex marriage, than they already are. All this decision means is that law schools cannot practice discrimination, even if this is motivated by religious faith, if it wants to be accredited by the provincial Law Society.

    • Wrong. In fact the main message here is that Christians may not live their religion and practice law the public square. They must embrace secularism in order to study law. This is a shameful decision, discriminatory and a betrayal of tolerance that Canadians used to take pride in.

      • The law says that same-sex marriages are every bit as valid as heterosexual ones.

        If a lawyer chooses to ignore that law, for religious reasons or otherwise, they are not fit to practice.

        • How are they ignoring that law by believing in traditional marriage? They are in no way ignoring that the law affords civil rights to same-sex marriages. The Civil Marriage Act that gave civil marriage rights to same-sex couple states in it that religious institutions and individuals may continue to hold a traditional definition of marriage. THAT is the law.

  4. …that’s exactly why it is called “religious freedom”.
    Now look who’s “calling the kettle black” ?

    It is the Students choice, if they want to study Law at this, or any other University.
    These Lawyers need to learn to stay OUT of peoples beliefs, otherwise, they should just change their name to the:
    “B.C. liar’s society”. -what a waste of time and energy.

  5. This issue and they crusade by some in the BC legal community to vote against TWU has got lost in emotion and ignorance of fact. The school simply has a community covenant – no drinking, no drugs and no pre-matial sex (gay or straight). The school does not ban gays, nor does this christian school ban Jews or Muslims. This school, like the Catholic Church and most faiths does not recognize same sex unions. Is this view so outragous that the graduates of this school will be be accepted to become lawyers? If that is the case, what are the Law Societies of Canada going to do about the Lawyers who came from Law Schools in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria Iran? Schools where not only would gays not be allowed (they are hung there) but Christians and Jews etc would also be banned. Why are these lawyers and the schools they came from acceptable – but one that does not recognize same sex unions a blight to the Canadian legal landscape?
    I suggest all read what the very left-liberal BC Civil Liberties Society had to say on this.

    “The BCCLA believes that any private religious institution must have the right to its conditions for membership in accordance with the religious beliefs held by that membership. Individual members of a religious faith are similarly free to observe or to reject these conditions, and to make decisions about whether they wish to belong to these institutions accordingly. These freedoms are essential to the ability of any religious group to carry on its existence. People who are not members of a particular religion (and even those who are) may not approve of or be comfortable with the beliefs of that faith. However, BCCLA’s position – in accordance with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Trinity Western University – is that the repugnance of a certain set of beliefs even to a majority of Canadians cannot be the basis to deny a public good, such as entry to a profession, to members of that faith.”


    • The school simply has a community covenant – no drinking, no drugs and no pre-matial sex (gay or straight).
      Oops, you forgot one…and no marital sex for homosexuals.
      I wonder why you left that one out?

    • I am a BC lawyer and identify as Christian. I respect that people have beliefs that differ from mine and I benefited from the diversity of views to which I was exposed during my legal education. TWU practises a kind of segregation that goes beyond belief to discriminatory practice because violation of the Covenant can lead to discipline, dismissal, refusal of re-admission or expulsion from the university and faculty. Most troubling to me, its covenant requires students and faculty members to be complicit in acts of discrimination because students are required to take steps to “hold each other accountable” to the covenant.

      Foreign trained lawyers have to apply to the National Centre for Accreditation, which is a committee of the Federation of Law Societies. NCA assesses whether applicants demonstrate competence in core common law subjects, including four Canadian subjects which are mandatory for all applicants (namely, Principles of Canadian Administrative Law, Canadian Constitutional Law, Canadian Criminal Law and Procedure, Foundations of Canadian Law) Unlike the TWU situation, the NCA does not accredit law programs and as such the NCA does not ‘approve’ non-Canadian law schools.

  6. When viewing recent Harper/Conservative legislation and proposals for new bills, Canada will soon need more experts in ‘Thou-Shalt-Not-Mosaic Law’. It makes sense to allow fundamentalist/evangelical Christians to train future lawyers and judges! They know well the book of Leviticus with all it’s twists and turns, ins and outs.

  7. We have become a society where religion is forced underground. It’s true that Christians are no longer welcome in the public square. If we cannot find room to compromise where legitimate views conflict, we are well on the road to totalitarianism

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