Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

British Columbia's Highest Court Unanimously Approves Canada's First Christian Law School, Says Religious Freedom To Ban Student Sex Outside Of Heterosexual Marriage Trumps LGBTQ Rights

Trinity WesternFollowing up on my previous posts (links below): Toronto Star, B.C. Christian University Wins Legal Victory in Bid to Open Law School:

Appeal Court of B.C. decided in favour of Trinity Western University, which seeks to ban its students from having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.

A decisive legal victory in British Columbia has put an evangelical Christian university one step closer in its bid to secure recognition for its proposed law school.

The Appeal Court of B.C. released a decision in favour of Trinity Western University on Tuesday, describing efforts by B.C.’s law society to deny accreditation to the school’s future lawyers as “unreasonable.” [Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia, 2016 BCCA 423 (Nov. 1, 2016)]

The legal dispute centres around the university’s community covenant that bans its students from having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.

In a unanimous decision, a panel of five judges said the negative impact on Trinity Western’s religious freedoms would be severe and far outweigh the minimal effect accreditation would have on gay and lesbian rights.

“A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society, one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal,” says the 66-page judgment. “This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in, itself, intolerant and illiberal.”

The decision upholds last year’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling against the Law Society of B.C. and its move to prevent the school’s future alumni from working in the province as lawyers.

The law society has argued that the controversial code of conduct discriminates against gays and lesbians hoping to enter the legal profession.

The Appeal Court decision found that denying approval to Trinity Western would not enhance access to law school for members of the LGBTQ community, and, therefore, wouldn’t help the law society meet its public-interest objectives.

It found that creating 60 new law school seats, which brings the Canadian total to about 2,500, would divert some law school hopefuls from programs elsewhere, and, as a result, increase the number of seats available to LGBTQ applicants.

“While we accept that approval of (Trinity Western’s) law school has, in principle, a detrimental impact on LGBTQ equality rights, because the number of law school places would not be equally open to all students, the impact on applications made . . . by LGBTQ students would be insignificant in real terms.”

Trinity Western has stirred up controversy elsewhere, with both Nova Scotia and Ontario’s law societies challenging the school’s push for recognition.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ultimately denied the N.S. Barristers’ Society’s efforts to prevent the school’s law graduates from receiving accreditation in that province. The society has since said it would not appeal the decision.

Ontario’s Appeal Court upheld a ruling against Trinity Western, approving the law society’s attempt in that province to deny recognition to the university’s future law graduates.

Law bodies elsewhere have mostly approved accreditation, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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