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Trinity Western University.

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Prominent lawyers are raising questions about a controversial proposal to open a law school at a B.C. Christian university that prohibits "sexual intimacy" between people of the same sex.

The school, a private faith-based university in Langley, won preliminary approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada on Monday, clearing a major hurdle to its accreditation. It is now up to the Ministry of Advanced Education to give it the green light.

Jason Gratl, a criminal and civil rights lawyer, said he supports the federation's decision, noting he would not want the national co-ordinating body to establish "liberal, democratic benchmarks" for school accreditation. However, by creating "superstitious, theological, puritanical, sexual standards for its students, the Trinity Western University law school will lose not only sexually active gays and lesbians from the pool of potential students, but also a good portion of reasonable, self-respecting equality seekers," he added.

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At issue is a covenant requiring all students, staff and faculty at Trinity Western to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

The school has argued that students choose to adhere when they apply.

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby has called the federation's decision "cowardly nonsense" and "a simple act of discrimination against gays and lesbians," threatening to file a lawsuit should B.C. choose to green-light the school.

Criminal defence lawyer Eric Gottardi called the matter a complicated issue. While his gut reaction was to question a law school with significant exclusionary rules in place, he noted the exclusion "is based on constitutionally protected rights, such as freedom of religion."

As well, it is a private institution that students choose to apply to.

"If in fact it is completely private and there is no public funding that goes into it, if that's true, then I think it becomes harder to condemn the initiative," he said. "But people go to law school, I think, to think very liberally about rights, and civil rights, and certainly you can talk in one breath about the freedom of religion, but [also] in the Charter is the protection of equality rights.

"What exactly are they going to be teaching about Section 15 [equality rights] of the Charter at Trinity Western law school?"

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Students and graduates of the controversial law school may also face difficulties in getting articling positions or employment. Mr. Gratl says he would be hesitant to hire a graduate from Trinity Western's law school.

"I would make assumptions about either the applicant's values or their desperation to get into a law school – any law school," he said. "It seems to me when you have restrictive entrance requirements, you lose a lot of very qualified teachers and students and the quality of the education just deteriorates."

Mr. Gottardi said it will boil down to the quality of instructors and graduates – "if the law school is producing graduates who don't fully comprehend Section 15, for example, or have a very skewed view about what Section 15 of the Charter means, or an overly enhanced importance attached to freedom of religion."

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk was not available for comment on Tuesday but said in a statement the proposed law school has successfully undergone a two-stage assessment as part of the approval process.

"With the preliminary approval of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Review of the Degree Quality Assessment Board on the quality of the program, the Ministry will now review the proposed degree," he said in the statement.

"As the Minister of Advanced Education, once I have studied both reviews, I will be able to make a final determination."

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