Canada’s next chapter on going godless is gearing up for a nasty fight. It’s a David versus Goliath match over a proposed law school. For now, “David” is Trinity Western University, a Christian school funded solely by donations and unsubsidized tuition fees of its 4,000 students.
TWU is the financial and spiritual love child of thousands of evangelical Christians in Canada. The Globe and Mail Educational Survey has consistently given TWU a grade of A+ for its quality. Students and alumni of TWU range from former Members of Parliament, a former coach for the Vancouver Canucks, and many corporate, and non-profit innovators around the world. TWU’s published goal is to now “found a law school focused on law as public service, encouraging students to satisfy unmet needs for legal services and promote social justice.”
Enter Goliath: Law societies in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the civil rights lawyer, Clayton Ruby are in court battles to shut the school down as discriminatory. The five-page belief and behavioral covenant at TWU aspires to have students limit sexual activity to the Biblical definition of marriage; “between a man and a woman.” Mr. Ruby approached B.C.’s gay community and found a plaintiff, Mr. Trevor Loke. “Mr. Loke had never heard of TWU, but when he heard there was a law school that was off limits to him in any meaningful way, that was an anathema, it was hateful,” Mr. Ruby told a Context TV debate.
“Let’s be clear here, we are not talking about acceptance of students, we are talking about while you are in law school here we are asking you to comply with this community covenant. We are not making it a term of acceptance that you not be gay, or deny that identity,” countered Earl Phillips of TWU.
Not all lawyers agree that gay rights are being violated in this case. Not all Christians agree a true expression of Christianity is being extended in this case. But at the core of this fight, this is not an argument over what kind of sex students should or shouldn’t be allowed to have.
What we’re really fighting over is the right to diversity. Lost in the fireworks of this case is that Canadian students choose TWU and its Covenant because it reflects their identity. Mr. Ruby’s and the law societies' fight imply that such identity can’t be trusted in their definitions of public life.
“Within the confines of religion, the most inane nonsense can be believed and practiced and passed on to one’s children. That’s freedom of religion, have a nice time. But when you go to the government and say I want your approval for this, I want tax status for this, then it’s beyond mere freedom of religion, there has to be a primacy for the right to equality,” Mr. Ruby said.
Also a human rights lawyer, Mr. Phillips left taking Charter law cases as a partner with McCarthy Tetrault to become Executive Director of TWU’s proposed law school. That is, if the school should ever be allowed to exist.
“Am I allowed as a Christian to state my beliefs, to live by them and fully participate in society? Is the humanist allowed to state his opinions and beliefs, and fully participate in society? We will not necessarily come to agreement when we discuss these things. A truly pluralist diverse society understands there are differences, allows for room for those differences, allows room for peaceable and respectful discussion and allows for the fact that we may still end up in disagreement. And yet we live and work together peaceably in this country. That is what I think we mean by respect,” said Mr. Phillips.
The most radical outcome of this case would be for the courts to decide that the two visions have to live side by side, with neither identity group able to force its morality on the other. Stretching and difficult, this is what it means to make space for authentic diversity in Canada. It’s a case where Canadian civility and tolerance is on trial.Report Typo/Error
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