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Students at Trinity Western University have pledged not to smoke, drink, swear, take drugs, fornicate or have gay sex. Are they unfit to teach your children? Add to ...

The cafeteria at Trinity Western University looks much like other campus eateries at this time of year. Chatter among frayed-looking students is mainly focused on exams: How many done? How many to go?

But the conversation of Julie Thomas, Marie Stuart and Kaley Williams reveals how different this university is from other campuses across the country. The students have just finished lunch and the conversation has turned to other things: the word of God, the vocation of teaching and why homosexual behaviour can't be tolerated among people who call themselves Christians.

"If I claim to want to live my life like Jesus did, I will love and accept [homosexuals]" Ms. Thomas, 19, explained. "But there are some behaviours that are destructive." Homosexual behaviour is one. Others are drinking, smoking, swearing and having sex outside marriage.

Ms. Thomas's views are shared by all her friends who attend the small liberal-arts university. In fact, they must put this in writing before they can be admitted.

That is because Trinity Western University is a fundamentalist Christian university and students and faculty must sign a so-called community-standards waiver pledging that they will not drink, smoke, swear or use marijuana, and they will abstain from premarital sex, adultery and homosexual behaviour.

The fundamentalist Christian university says these requirements are perfectly legal because it is privately funded, privately run and accepts no public money. Tuition for its 2,700-plus students is $16,000 a year.

But the waiver has touched off a fierce row in B.C.'s education circles. The B.C. College of Teachers says the rules display an inherent bias against homosexuals and has refused to let Trinity Western train teachers.

The university fought back and in 1998, a B.C. Supreme Court sided with Trinity Western. The college of teachers appealed.

The battle is now headed for the Supreme Court of Canada, pitting the university's claim of religious rights against the licensing body's claim of human rights. Tucked away among the farm fields of the fertile Fraser Valley, the campus, at first glance, looks like any other small modern university. Nondescript glass and concrete buildings are clustered around green courtyards. Students, weighed down with books, bags and knapsacks, trot along the paths and sidewalks.

But take a closer look and you notice again how remarkable Trinity Western is compared with other universities. There are no students smoking in the entrances of buildings. There are no campus pubs. In the pristine washrooms, there's not one scratch of graffiti on cubicle walls.

Reform MPs Deborah Grey and Grant McNally are among the alumni, as is Vancouver mining executive Catherine McLeod-Seltzer.

In the cafeteria, the students say they came to Trinity Western because they craved an environment where they felt at home. Ms. Stuart, 21, said her teenage years in Kitimat, B.C., were alienating because she was ridiculed for her beliefs.

"I went to public school all my life," Ms. Stuart said. "I think 1 per cent of the population there was Christian." Ms. Stuart shunned parties where there was drinking and drugs and, as a result, found "that I was definitely not popular."

She came to Trinity Western because she needed to be in an environment "where my faith is supported."

Ms. Stuart and her friends say the court challenge raises important issues of freedom of religion. Ms. Thomas thinks the dispute is emblematic of a wider societal disdain for Christianity, fuelled by the past crimes committed in the name of religion, such as the treatment of natives in residential schools.

She said she is aware of the disdain in the secular world for fundamental Christianity and it saddens her.

But she can think of no better place to learn how to be a teacher than at a Christian university.

"We learn about Jesus as a teacher," Ms. Thomas said. "He went to the prostitutes and the lepers and said 'You are loved.' So, I can't be intolerant of others."

Ms. Thomas, Ms. Stuart and Ms. Williams say the university has every right to create a Christian milieu for like-minded students. They don't believe their campus is a breeding ground for homophobia and they think the university should have the right to train them as teachers.

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