Following up on my previous posts (links below): Globe and Mail, Law Societies Can Deny Accreditation to B.C. Evangelical University’s Law School Graduates: Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of provincial law societies to reject the graduates of a proposed Christian law school over its requirement that students abstain from sex outside of heterosexual marriage [Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada; Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia].
In a highly anticipated contest between religious freedom and equality, most of the court said the limit on religious freedom was a minor one – well short of “forced apostasy,” as five of the judges put it. By comparison, the effects on equality, if the school had been accredited, would have been large enough to threaten the integrity of the legal system, the judges said.
The court had been asked whether the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario were within their rights when they voted not to give licences to graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school at its campus in Langley, B.C. In a pair of 7-2 rulings, the court said they were.
“Limiting access to membership in the legal profession on the basis of personal characteristics, unrelated to merit, is inherently inimical to the integrity of the legal profession,” five of the seven judges in the majority wrote.
The ruling means the law school will probably never open its doors, as long as it insists on keeping its “community covenant” – an agreement prohibiting its students from sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage is legal throughout Canada.)
The school indicated on Friday that it may reconsider the wording of the covenant. “We will review the community covenant, I’m sure,” Earl Phillips, executive director of the proposed law school, told The Globe and Mail.
He called the court’s decision a major setback for religious freedom. “This really means that diversity in Canada doesn’t have room for a small, free-standing university with Christian principles to operate a law school.”
Trinity Western, established in 1962, describes itself as Canada’s largest independent Christian liberal arts institution, with an enrolment of 3,600.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Deans Oppose Canada's First Christian Law School (Jan. 19, 2013)
- An Argument for a Christian Law School in Canada (Aug. 4, 2013)
- Canada Approves First Christian Law School Despite Opposition Over Student Code of Conduct Prohibiting Gay 'Sexual Intimacy' (Dec. 20, 2013)
- Legal Education, Religious and Secular: The Trinity Western University Controversy and Beyond (June 1, 2014)
- Legal Education, Gay Rights and Religion: Living by a Different Law (Nov. 9, 2014)
- Canada's First Christian Law School Sues Over Denial of Accreditation Due to Student Code of Conduct (Dec. 25, 2014)
- Will Christian Colleges (And Law Schools) Lose Their Tax Exemption After Obergefell? (July 5, 2015)
- Brunson: Churches And Religiously-Affiliated Schools That Oppose Same-Sex Marriage Will Not Lose Their Tax Exemption After Obergefell (July 12, 2015)
- The Accreditation Battle Over Canada's First Christian Law School (Apr. 24, 2016)
- More On The Accreditation Battle Over Canada's First Christian Law School (June 5, 2016)
- Appeals Court Affirms Denial Of Accreditation Of Canada's First Christian Law School (June 30, 2016)
- The (Im)Possibility Of Christian Legal Education (July 10, 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 (Nov. 2, 2016)
- Supreme Court To Decide Fate Of Canada's First Christian Law School: Does Religious Freedom To Ban Student Sex Outside Of Heterosexual Marriage Trump LGBTQ Rights? (Feb. 26, 2017)
- The Accreditation Battle Over Canada's First Christian Law School: Does Religious Freedom To Ban Student Sex Outside Of Heterosexual Marriage Trump LGBTQ Rights? (May 27, 2017)
- Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument In Accreditation Battle Over Canada's First Christian Law School (Dec. 3, 2017)