Rethinking the TWU Law School issue

In January, it came to our attention that Trinity Western University, a private evangelical university in Langley, was applying to have an accredited law school. The Canadian Council of Law Deans expressed their opposition to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, which the BC Civil Liberties Association rejected in favour of arguments for the freedom of religion. At the time, our previous Board considered the issue and opted to defer to the BCCLA’s position, though no formal motion was taken (to my recollection).

Now, Clayton Ruby and other lawyers have started a group called No Queer Quota – For Equality in Legal Education, with the goal of seeing TWU’s application rejected. Their new arguments are giving our current Board of Directors pause to rethink the issue at our upcoming Board meeting.

I want to express my own evolving view here but feel free to chip in with your own comments below or by emailing exdir@bchumanist.ca

 

In the late 1990s, TWU applied to be accredited for the purposes of graduating teachers for the public school system. The BC College of Teachers rejected the application on similar grounds as the CCLD’s – namely that TWU discriminates against LGBT students with their statement of faith. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which sided with TWU, citing freedom of religion and a lack of evidence that TWU-certified teachers would be more likely to discriminate than their secular-trained peers. The BCCLA position mirrors very closely to the Supreme Courts and they cite key paragraphs of that decision as part of their argument.

However, the remaining arguments in the January BCCLA letter are less compelling.

They argue, without justification, that the CCLD would see all religious students barred from legal education in Canada. In fact, the reverse would be true with an accredited TWU. Applicants to public law schools would be judged on their merits, but only those who adhere to strict dogma and who could afford the tuition would be permitted to attend TWU. This perpetuates our two-tier education system where wealthy, Christians have access to more options than atheists, homosexuals, or the less well off.

Next, the BCCLA fails to see the threat posed to academic freedom by religious institutions. Ironically, they argue that religious voices are precluded from secular institutions. Never mind that nearly every major postsecondary institution in Canada maintains a school of theology, there are many prominent examples of academics at ostensibly secular institutes (e.g. Reginald Bibby,John Stackhouse). Meanwhile, TWU is still debating whether evolution happened and directly limits debate by preventing non-Christians from attending or becoming faculty.

Finally, the BCCLA would see members of the CCLD barred from the decision process over TWUs application before the FLSC. By the BCCLA’s own admission, the FLSC relies on deans of law schools – many of whom would belong to the CCLD – to evaluate similar applications. To advocate censoring their opinions seems contrary to the pro-freedom position put forward by the BCCLA.

Ruby’s new argument is that the focus on the types of lawyers TWU will turn out is wrongheaded. Instead, we should be focused on the entry requirements to Canadian law schools. By accrediting TWU, the FLSC will permit some of its institutions to implement restrictions that violate the human rights of Canadian applicants. This means additional spaces will be made for non-LGBT students. Similarly, these new spaces will not be available for atheists or potentially those who believe in the wrong god.

My personal position is coming closer to Mr. Ruby’s and I do worry about the potential of TWU-educated lawyers attempting to use the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to erode secular values in Canada. I also strongly oppose the two-tiered education system that has been created by BC’s Independent School Act that permits religious schools to discriminate.

What are your thoughts? Should the BCHA take a stance as an organization for or against TWU’s application?

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