Trinity Western University, a private, Christian school in Langley, B.C., is seeking to open a law school. The school requires that all students and faculty sign a pledge to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” The pledge is footnoted with a quotation from the New Testament that inveighs against homosexual sex.
This covenant is not simply an expression of belief or a request for certain behaviour. It is in effect a bar to gay and lesbian students who are married.
Religious institutions have a long history of involvement in higher education in Canada (Queen’s and McGill are two universities with religious roots), and religious freedom deserves protection. But a law school that purports to be a homosexual-free zone is a contradiction in terms. Even the school’s non-discrimination policy leaves out sexual orientation. Equality before the law is at the heart of Canadian law, and a law school that won’t accept that idea has no legitimacy.
That is not an attack on religious freedom. Religious institutions such as Trinity Western (operated by the Evangelical Free Church of Canada, and attended by students from a variety of denominations) have the freedom to write, think and teach what they want. But the training of lawyers is something that the broader society needs to insist be untainted by discrimination.
A similar case arose more than a decade ago, when Trinity Western sought to operate on its own a teachers college that it had already been running jointly with Simon Fraser University. The British Columbia College of Teachers rejected the application, but the Supreme Court of Canada said there was no evidence that the teachers it produced would discriminate. It said that in balancing religious and equality rights, the “proper place to draw the line is generally between belief and conduct.” But isn’t the school’s decision to bar married gay students a type of conduct?
The issue of a Trinity Western law school is not about whether its graduates would discriminate against gay people. It’s about the presence on the Canadian landscape of a law school with an effective bar to married gay faculty and students. A law school fundamentally at odds with Canadian law cannot stand.