Paul L. Caron

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Legal Education, Gay Rights and Religion: Living by a Different Law

Following up on my previous post (links below):  The Economist, Higher Education, Gay Rights and Religion: Living by a Different Law:

TrinityBefore attending a single class, students at Trinity Western University, which offers a broad range of arts and science subjects, must sign what the school calls a community covenant [FAQ]. This is a solemn pledge that they won’t, among other things, lie, cheat and watch porn. They also vow to abstain from premarital sex and specifically any sexual intimacy between people of the same sex. Critics call the covenant anti-gay; the school retorts that it's asserting its entitlement under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom to practise its beliefs. All this was an academic argument until recently; but it is coming to a head because of the university’s decision to begin a law school, which would accept its first students in 2016.

The school at Trinity Western, which is associated with the Evangelical Free Church of Canada, will break new ground in several ways. It will be the first private law school in Canada and it is the first law school in a Christian university. Canada now has a total of 22 law schools, three of them in British Columbia. Already the decision to train lawyers who disavow homosexuality (at least in their own lives) has created a rift among established law schools and the regulatory bodies in various Canadian provinces which represent lawyers—and could prevent a Trinity graduate from practicing. Ontario's Law Society voted against approving the school; the barristers of Nova Scotia granted conditional acceptance of the school but only if the covenant was dropped for law students or students were allowed to opt out—which is not currently the case. 

Closer to home, British Columbia’s Law Society, which has 13,000 lawyer members, gave an initial approval of the new school last April, indicating that it would allow its graduates to work in the province; but the endorsement so distressed some lawyers that they insisted on a vote among the society's members. On October 31st, 74% of members voted to withdraw the approval.

Earl Phillips, the executive director of the TWU law school, says he’s disappointed that reaction to the planned institution has been "emotional" rather than reasoned. "This is about creating real diversity. We should be able to listen carefully and communicate and have discussions that are respectful but it means also that we should allow the possibility that we will continue to be in disagreement on certain things," he says. If adhering to a "traditional concept of Christian marriage" makes an institution unfit to train lawyers, then that would "take us a long way down the road to having much less freedom," adds Mr Phillips.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education | Permalink


"They vow to abstain from any premarital sex and specifically [gay] intimacy." What does that mean? If there is a rule prohibiting intimacy of any kind I don't see that as discriminating against anyone. If it differentially targets one group that's different.

Posted by: mike livingston | Nov 10, 2014 4:14:18 AM