The Supreme Court’s decision affirming the right of provincial law societies to refuse to licence graduates of Trinity Western University’s law school is nominally a question of administrative law, but it touches on a more polarizing issue: the contest between traditional religious belief and the right to be free from discrimination.
Decided by a 7-2 majority, the ruling involves four separate reasons for judgment, including two concurrences and a spirited dissent.
This legal smorgasbord has inspired a wide variety of reactions that largely depend on one’s political perspective.
At its core, however, the ruling strikes a difficult but appropriate balance between freedom of religion (TWU is a private Christian institution in Langley, B.C.) and the right of regulatory bodies (in this case the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario) to set their own rules.
One can agree or disagree with the reasoning that led to it, but the Court’s decision to uphold the law societies’ right to deny TWU graduates their licence to practise law is the correct one.
Students at TWU must sign a “community covenant agreement” that prohibits “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
The law societies saw the covenant as a form of discrimination against LGBTQ law students.
They believed the right to be free from discrimination took precedence over the school’s faith-based rules, and the Court agreed. “Limiting access to membership in the legal profession on the basis of personal characteristics, unrelated to merit, is inherently inimical to the integrity of the legal profession,” the ruling said.
The anger on the part of staunch defenders of religious freedom is understandable, though. If Trinity Western wants to go forward with its law school, it will have to either abandon its covenant or reword it so as not to make an issue out of students’ sexual orientation.
That will be paramount to abandoning what the school sees as its core Christian beliefs. That’s a difficult position to be in. Nevertheless, Canada is better off without a law school that tells LGBTQ people they are not welcome or worthy.