Legal societies in Canada are trying to thwart the opening of a law school at British Columbia's Trinity Western University because the Christian-based school requires students to avoid sex outside of a traditional, heterosexual marriage. The moves against the school violate Canada's Charter, supporters claim.
A nonbinding vote of 3,210-968 by provincial lawyers seeks a reconsideration of the Law Society of British Columbia's accreditation of the law school, set to open in 2016 and graduate its first class of attorneys three years later.
The Canadian Press news agency reports, "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."
According to the report, Trinity Western "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."
In April, directors of the Law Society, by a 20-7 vote, agreed to approve a law school at Trinity Western, a 52-year-old school. The directors are not obligated to follow the vote, a TWU report explained.
The matter comes more than a decade after the Christian school went to court over its teacher education program. In Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, Canada's Supreme Court ruled by an 8-to-1 vote, "In considering the religious precepts of TWU instead of the actual impact of these beliefs on the public school environment, the BCCT acted on the basis of irrelevant considerations."
Opponents of Trinity's law school declared it is practice, not belief, that is at issue.
Victoria, British Columbia, attorney Michael Mulligan told Law Society delegates in July, "Our concern is with the conduct of the university, as an institution, and not the religious views of the faculty or students. Our task is to assess the conduct of the university in order to determine if its approval would further the objects and duties of the law society. On that score there is no need for speculation and the answer is no."
Bob Kuhn, Trinity's president and himself an attorney, addressed the society, too, saying Canadian law "recognizes that it is not against public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage," according to a TWU report. "In a free and democratic society, the faith of TWU graduates cannot preclude them from practicing law."
Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Trinity Western alumnus Mark Penninga, executive director of the Association for Reformed Political Action, a Christian group, stated, "The same B.C. lawyers who voted against the Trinity Western Law School have all taken an oath based on principles that come straight from the Christian religion."
Penninga asserted, "The citizens of this province, indeed the entire country, need to wake up to this reality and demand an answer to this central question: Just what does religious freedom mean to B.C. lawyers? Their vote tells me we only have the freedom to believe what they do."
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