Humanists argue against religious law school at Supreme Court of Canada

On November 30 and December 1 the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments over whether law societies must recognize evangelical Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. The BC Humanist Association was there.

TWU's Community Covenant excludes sexual intimacy outside a heterosexual marriage. As such, the case has been framed as pitting religious freedom against LGBTQ equality or in terms of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whether law societies must prioritize sections 2a (freedom of religion) or section 15 (equality).

In our first intervention at the Court, our lawyers, Wes McMillan and Kaitlyn Meyer from Hakemi & Ridgedale LLP, built on fellow interveners from the United Church of Canada and the Faith, Fealty & Creed Society to argue that organizations should not be able to claim religious rights under Canadian law.

As McMillan argued before the justices:

An organizational claimant is a construct of law; it has no beliefs of its own.

He went on to argue that if the court were to create religious rights for organizations, then the court must only do so when that organization meets a strict test. Otherwise, as McMillan argued, “there’s conflation of the organization itself and the community that it purports to represent.”

The test should therefore require the court to inspect the constitution and other governing documents of the organization and consider whether the actions in question conform to those purposes.

If we ignore those [constituting & enabling] documents, we risk turning an organizational 2a right into what I call a 'protected religious oligarchy.' We move from protecting the communal aspects of freedom of religion for individuals into protecting the whims or beliefs or practices of some board or a council that operate the organization or perhaps only the majority of that board who make this decision.

And that’s not what the 2a right is about. If we’re talking about a communal right here we have to be concerned with the community that organization purports to represent.

The Court reserved judgement and is expected to return a judgement in early 2018.

While Wes and Kaitlyn provided generous pro-bono support, we would not have been able to go to Ottawa to make these arguments or to help bring you there without the support of our generous donors. Consider supporting our work so we can undertake future interventions to defend equality and the separation of church and state.


Read our written submissions.

Relive our tweets from the two days of court hearings (with links to each days' full webcast).

Watch our lawyer Wes McMillan argue before the Supreme Court of Canada.

You can watch the full webcasts from the first and second days on the Supreme Court of Canada's website. Wes speaks at about 2:02:00 on day 2.

Facebook Live

Watch the Facebook live videos we did with our lawyers following each day's hearings.

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