Summary: Canada’s highest court will rule on whether law societies can deny accreditation to law schools with a religious background.
Canada’s Supreme Court is coming together to decide if law societies have the power to deny accreditation to a Law School at a British Columbia Christian university. The societies in question are the Law Society of Upper Canada, which governs the legal profession in Ontario, and the Law Society of B.C. Both societies are denying accreditation to Trinity Western University because the university has a rule prohibiting sex outside heterosexual marriage, according to Kamloops Matters.
The societies view the covenant given by the Christian university as discrimination so they won’t license the graduates of the law School. When confronted with a lawsuit against their decision, the Court of Appeals for Ontario sided with the law society whereas a B.C. top court sided with the university. The B.C. court found that the law society acted unreasonably by infringing on the right to freedom of religion, imposing their view on a minority “in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.”
The university in Langley, B.C. proposed opening a law school in 2012. They were given approval by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Ministry of Advanced Education for the province to open a law school.
They argue that if the law societies refuse to license their graduates, they would be the ones discriminating because the private institution enforcing evangelical Christian standards and beliefs, as expressed in the Bible. Executive Director of the proposed law school, Earl Phillips, said, “We believe the community covenant reflects our understanding of Christian principles. …Parliament has recognized same-sex marriage but there are different views on that and we shouldn’t be adversely affected for holding different views in a diverse society.”
Phillips explained that prohibiting sex outside of marriage between a man and woman is just one part of the community covenant. They also call on students, staff, and faculty to cultivate Christian values like peace, forgiveness, joy and love.
Trinity Western University graduate Jessie Legaree earned two degrees from the university between 2006 and 2012. The provided an affidavit for the school, publicly supporting her alma mater while she was in her first year of law school at the University of Toronto even though others said it would hurt her career to support the school.
Legaree said, “This is about Trinity’s right to exist as a separate entity where Christians can come together for higher learning. I think it’s an incredibly important action so Trinity had to pursue it in order to continue to be able to define itself.”
Legaree is now an attorney in Abbotsford, B.C. She feels there should be enough room in Canada for a faith-based school to keep its views on marriage. “It’s able being able to define itself as a Christian institution, however they do that. This decision is going to be very far reaching and is a watershed case.”
Canada has already seen a similar case. In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny accreditation to graduates from Trinity with a teaching degree because of the community covenant.
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To learn more about the progression of the case, read these articles:
- Accreditation Denied for Trinity Western University
- Trinity Western’s Accreditation Affirmed
- Trinity Western University Gets the Ruling They Wanted