A welcome ruling from the Appeal Court of B.C. this week upheld the right of graduates of Trinity Western University's proposed law school to practice their chosen profession in the province.
The unanimous decision by five judges on the Appeal Court panel said the attempts by the Law Society of B.C. to deny accreditation to the evangelical school's graduates were unreasonable, adding that the negative impact on TWU's religious freedom far outweighed the "minimal" effect accreditation would have on LGBTQ rights.
At the heart of this dispute is TWU's community covenant, which requires that students agree to abstain from sexual activity outside the Christian definition of marriage between a man and woman. It also expects students to abstain from viewing pornography, taking illicit drugs, consuming alcohol or tobacco in excess; participating in any form of gossip, slander, vulgar or obscene language; and harbouring prejudice against minority groups. Clearly, there is much in the covenant to admire. Moreover, TWU doesn't seek to impose its religious beliefs on anyone other than those willing to embrace them.
The law society argued that the covenant discriminates against the LGBTQ community, but the court ruled that denying accreditation limited TWU's right to freedom of religion, which is protected in Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while doing nothing to improve access for LGBTQ students.
In fact, the ruling said opening 60 new law school spaces at TWU would draw some law students from other institutions, increasing the number of opportunities elsewhere for LGBTQ applicants.
"This case demonstrates that 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," the judges wrote.
The Law Society's Board of Governors voted in 2014 to accredit TWU graduates, but that decision was reversed later that year in a referendum in which 74 per cent of members voted against it.
It beggars belief that a majority of lawyers would ignore a fundamental constitutional right, freedom of religion, to advance an ideological agenda. Unfortunately, the battle may not be over. The Law Society, despite the clarity of the Appeal Court's rebuke, could take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. It is to be hoped that judges of the top court are as clear-headed as those on the B.C. Court of Appeal and will find in favour of religious freedom as they did 15 years ago when the B.C. Teachers Federation tried to bar TWU education students from entering the teaching profession.
-- Vancouver Sun