Trinity Western University Loses Religious Freedom Fight

By Gavi Greenspan | June 20, 2018 | 8:37pm EDT
Trinity Western University (Screenshot)

( - In a 7-2 decision, the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled against Trinity Western University in their fight to open a law school, siding with the Law Society of British Columbia in its belief that LGBTQ+ rights trump religious freedom rights.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Richard Wagner, along with Justices Rosalie Abella, Michael Moldaver, Andromache Karakatsanis, and Clement Gascon stated “The LSBC’s [Law Society of British Columbia] decision not to approve TWU’s [Trinity Western University] proposed law school represents a proportionate balance between the limitation on the religious protections under s. 2 (a) of the Charter and the statutory objectives that the LSBC sought to pursue. The LSBC’s decision was therefore reasonable.”

TWU is an evangelical institute of higher learning that has multiple locations in Canada. The institution was founded by the Evangelical Free Churches of Canada and America in 1962 and was upgraded to university status in 1985.

In June 2012, Trinity Western submitted a proposal for a law school at their main campus in British Columbia. In April of 2014 the LSBC, however, in October of 2014, the LSBC reversed its decision based on a referendum of British Columbia’s lawyers. Trinity Western sued the LSBC for their decision and thus began a years-long legal battle that resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada handing down a decision in favor of the LSBC’s favor on June 15.

A timeline of TWU’s legal battle can be found here.

At issue in this legal dispute was Trinity Western’s “Community Covenant” which, among other things, prohibited “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The full text of TWU’s “Community Covenant” can be found here.

Justice Beverly McLachlin, who retired on Dec. 15, 2017 but was still on the bench in late November and early December of 2017 when Trinity Western’s appeal was heard, agreed with the majority decision, stating, “Where legislatures delegate regulation of the legal profession to a law society, the law society’s interpretation of the public interest is owed deference.”

Justice Malcolm Rowe also agreed with the majority, stating, “With the privilege of self-government granted to the LSBC comes a corresponding duty to self-regulate in the public interest. The LSBC was entitled to interpret its public interest mandate as including consideration of the effect of the Covenant on prospective law students. The fact that the Covenant is a statement of religious rules and principles does not insulate it from such scrutiny.”

Justices Suzanne Cote and Russell Brown disagreed with the decision, however, stating “Under the LSBC’s enabling statute, the only proper purpose of a law faculty approval decision is to ensure that individual graduates are fit to become members of the legal profession because they meet minimum standards of competence and ethical conduct. Given the absence of any concerns relating to the fitness of prospective TWU law graduates, the only defensible exercise of the LSBC’s statutory discretion would have been to approve TWU’s proposed law school.”

The full text of the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision including concurring and dissenting opinions, can be found here.

For its part, TWU mourned the majority’s decision, stating, “Until now, Canada has encouraged the rich mosaic created by the diversity of views, race, gender, and belief systems. Sadly, the Supreme Court has decided that this does not extend to a law school at Trinity Western University.”

Earl Phillips, executive director of what was going to be TWU Law School, said, “We feel this is a lost opportunity for Canadians, many of whom do not have affordable access to justice. There are only three common law schools in Canada that offer a course in charity law. The TWU Law School would have offered a specialty in charity law. Because Canada has the second largest charitable and non-profit sector in the world, this law stands to impact Canadians coast to coast.”

Phillips further stated, “Without question, the Trinity Western community is disappointed by this ruling. However, all Canadians should be troubled by today’s decision that sets a precedent for how the courts will interpret and apply Charter rights and equality rights going forward.”


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