The Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) and Nova Scotia Barristers Society have voted on whether future graduates of the BC evangelical university which recently received permission from BC to form a law school will be able to practice law in their provinces. The Globe & Mail:
Nova Scotia’s law society has voted to approve accreditation of Trinity Western University law school, but only if it drops the controversial policy prohibiting same-sex intimacy that some say is discriminatory.
Ten members of the council of Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society voted to conditionally accredit, while nine voted against allowing graduates from the faith-based Trinity Western University to practise in the province.
The decision follows that by Ontario’s law society to refuse to accredit the new law school.
The Law Society of New Brunswick will be voting in June.
This is the reaction of the Trinity Western University President:
“We are very disappointed,” said Trinity Western University president Bob Kuhn in a statement.
“These decisions impact all Canadians and people of faith everywhere. They send the chilling message that you cannot hold religious values and also participate fully in public society.”
…But Kuhn told the panel that treating the university’s alumni different from graduates of other schools would be prejudicial.
Kuhn, a long-time lawyer, said he was offended by any suggestion that religious beliefs would prevent students from acting professionally and ethically in their duties as lawyers.
TWU does not receive public funding. The law school, scheduled to open in 2016 would take about 60 students. The school got into a royal battle in the 1990′s with the BC College of Teachers.
In the late 1990s, the British Columbia College of Teachers blocked Trinity Western from granting teaching degrees in light of its policies related to homosexuality. At the time, students were required to sign an agreement not to engage in activities that were “biblically condemned,” including “homosexual behaviour.”
The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which overturned the college’s decision.
As well TWU made news a few years ago because of a charitable tax scheme involving TWU parents and students.
There is no such thing as a Christian lawyer, which is what I hear TWU attempting to promote. There are lawyers who are Christians. In fact there are many in Canada, all of who went to law schools which did not require signed covenants promoting institutionalized discrimination. None of those lawyers are any less Christian, are they?
The five page TWU covenant requires students refrain from, “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” and the covenant promotes ‘healthy sexuality’, which, “according to the Bible, sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, and within that marriage bond it is God’s intention that it be enjoyed as a means for marital intimacy and procreation.”
Potential law students in a same-sex marriage need not apply.
While opposition to same sex marriage is a default response in some conservative evangelical corners, it is not the only response of evangelicals.
No doubt there are gay Christians who would be openly willing to abide by an abstention rule, having grown up with that belief.
I wonder how many GLBT students at a school like TWU remain in the closet out of fear. I have as much of a problem with a culture of shame and fear around sexual orientation as I do with blantant discrimination against same sex married couples. And I have little patience with Kuhn’s belief that people of faith are under any kind of chill or attack. Seems to me his comment is a direct insult to every lawyer who is a Christian practicing in Canada. The chill I feel as a believer is from fellow evangelicals demanding signed covenants and openly demanding the right to discriminate against a minority.
A petition by a BC lawyer has garnered double the number of signatures required to force a general meeting of the BC Law Society within 60 days to review the decision to accredit a law school at TWU.
Trinity Western University is signalling that they will pursue their goals aggressively through the legal system.
Neil Godbout at The Prince George Citizen speaks more eloquently and sufficiently than I have. What would Jesus do?
All law students are taught that the law must be paramount over personal beliefs or religious values for democracy to exist and justice to be served.
Kuhn is free to demand his students sign the behaviour covenant but law societies across Canada are free to oppose that demand and reject the school’s graduates, on the grounds that they’ve been taught that their religious values are greater than the law and that they condone prejudiced behaviour against homosexuals.
There is a simple resolution to this problem. Trinity Western needs to look no further than the words of Jesus Christ to know how it should proceed.
“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” Jesus told his followers in the book of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 21. It was Christ’s advice for those wanting guidance on what to do when conflict arises between the laws of humanity and God’s commands. It seems clear that Jesus said that in matters of the law, the law takes precedence, so long as it doesn’t interfere with worship. Christians can remain true to both human law and to God’s word without sinning or condoning sinful behaviour.
There is no need for Trinity Western to have its students sign the behavior covenant. Devout Christians wanting a faith-based education could rightly refuse to sign the covenant on the grounds that it is God’s judgment, not the school’s, that is paramount. A written declaration to the school about following Christian behaviour holds no water when the only judge that matters is Christ himself.
Kuhn’s faith in God needs to be matched by some faith in his students. By enrolling in Trinity Western, his students have put their faith (and their time and money) in receiving a post-secondary education at an institution that values the Christian beliefs they already hold more than what is available at other colleges and universities. Kuhn and Trinity Western’s leadership should return the faith placed in them by their students by trusting them to continue to embrace the words and the example set by the Saviour.
Doing so would allow the university and its students to follow both Canadian law and God’s words. It would also allow law societies across Canada to recognize the school’s graduates as competent lawyers who understand the separation of church and state.
Update: Trinity Western U is suing Ontario and Nova Scotia law societies and will be part of the lawsuit in BC which is challenging the schools right to have a law school.
Update: BC lawyers vote against Trinity Western Law School.
Update: Law Society of British Columbia referendum vote:
The law society said 8,039 of 13,530 eligible voters cast their ballots, with 5,951 voting against accrediting the university and 2,088 voting in favour.