Organizations don't have a religion

BCHA submits arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada in TWU law school case

The BC Humanist Association filed our arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada today in two cases over the proposed law school at Trinity Western University.

In our factum, we argue that only individuals, and not organizations, should be able to claim to have religious rights. Canadian courts have repeatedly refused to recognize an organization's religious rights and to do so could open a Pandora's Box of unintended consequences. In the USA, rulings such as Citizen's United and Hobby Lobby have resulted in a dramatic expansion of the power of corporations over individual citizens.

The Supreme Court of Canada is set to hear appeals to decisions by law societies in BC and Ontario to reject an application by evangelical Trinity Western University to create a law school. Both societies argue that TWU's Community Covenant, which requires students to abstain from sex outside a marriage between a man and a woman, discriminates against LGBTQ students.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

These cases have been positioned as a clash between the religious freedom of TWU and the equality rights of prospective LGBTQ law students, yet courts have so far taken it as a given that religious freedom is at play. We contend that religion is inherently personal and as such organizations cannot make religious freedom claims. Within any group of religious individuals there are bound to be theological disagreements that make such a concept absurd.

While there are certainly communal aspects of religion, our legislatures have generally dealt with this in human rights codes through very narrow exemptions to an organization's duty not to discriminate. This approach provides a clear pathway for the court to test any organization's claim to religious freedom.

The Court is scheduled to hear arguments in Ottawa on November 30 and December 1. The BC Humanist Association is one of nearly thirty intervenors in the case.

Read our factum [pdf]

The BC Humanist Association is being represented by Wesley McMillan and Kaitlyn Meyer of Hakemi & Ridgedale LLP.

While we have generous pro-bono legal support on this case, we still need your support to cover our travel costs, filing fees and staff time. Please help us reach our goal.

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