The Federation of Law Societies of Canada should not accredit a new law school at Trinity Western University. Doing otherwise would be to endorse the university’s discrimination against gays and lesbians. The FLSC should also use this occasion to follow the lead of its American counterpart and adopt anti-discrimination standards for all law schools seeking accreditation.
Trinity Western is a well-regarded evangelical Christian university in Langley, B.C., with a clear mission: “As an arm of the Church, to develop godly Christian leaders.” In 2012, it requested accreditation from the FLSC to open a law school.
The university obliges staff and students to sign a “covenant” making “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” an offence that can lead to firing or expulsion. While the school insists that it accepts students solely on merit, its covenant effectively bans gay married couples and makes attendance or employment impossible for any self-respecting member of the LGBT community. What the university calls a “theological view” plays out as discrimination against an identifiable group.
The FLSC normally accredits law schools solely on the grounds of whether their curriculums meet national standards, but last year it struck a special advisory committee to determine whether it should take into account other considerations. It should, and it can look south for a workable and reasonable solution that protects the rights of all involved.
The American Bar Association states in its rules for approval of law schools that “a law school shall not use admission policies or take other action to preclude admission of applicants or retention of students on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability.” The ABA standards do “not prevent a law school from having a religious affiliation or purpose,” and the rules do “not require a school to recognize or fund organizations whose purposes or objectives with respect to sexual orientation conﬂict with the essential elements of the religious values and beliefs held by the school.”
The result is that private, church-affiliated American law schools, including Pepperdine, Baylor and Notre Dame, state in their admissions policies that they do not discriminate based on sexual orientation. At the same time, Pepperdine is free to add that its students and staff, regardless of orientation, are expected not to engage in sex outside of marriage “as a matter of moral and faith witness.”
Trinity Western can easily modify its covenant to respect Canada’s laws on same-sex marriage and Charter protections against discrimination without impinging on its ability to run a faith-based law school or to advocate traditional marriage. Until and unless it does, the FLSC should not grant it accreditation.