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Supreme Court agrees to hear important religious freedom case

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Trinity Western University will have the opportunity to defend its religious freedom and pro-traditional marriage community covenant before the Supreme Court of Canada.

On Feb. 20 Canada’s highest court granted the private evangelical Christian University leave to appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling that sided with the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision to refuse accreditation to graduates of Trinity Western’s proposed law school.

Though the Ontario Court of Appeal recognized that the Law Society’s decision infringed on Trinity Western’s religious freedom, it said the infringement was reasonable in light of the society’s statutory obligations to protect the public interest.

“This will be the biggest religious freedom case of definitely the decade and possibly of the next half-century,” said constitutional lawyer André Schutten, the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada’s legal counsel and director of law and policy.

“This goes beyond just the individual right to religious freedom, to now talking about the right for an institution, for a community of believers together to be able to identify, to associate and to profess a particular belief about a deeply held conviction about their religion, in this case about marriage and sexuality in particular,” Schutten said.

“We are pleased that leave was granted in this case so it can proceed to be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Bob Kuhn, President of Trinity Western University, in a Feb. 23 release.

“We believe that the court will protect the TWU religious community, based on last year’s ruling of the British Columbia Court of Appeal and the 2001 Supreme Court of Canada decision involving Trinity Western University’s School of Education.”

The Supreme Court also granted leave to appeal the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision that ruled against the Law Society of British Columbia’s refusal to accredit future students. The court will hear these two appeals simultaneously.

At issue is Trinity Western’s community covenant that all faculty and students must sign. Among the covenant’s requirements is a promise to refrain from all sexual activity outside of traditional marriage.

The covenant prompted the British Columbia College of Teachers to block accreditation of graduates of Trinity Western’s teacher’s college on grounds the community covenant is discriminatory against the LGBT community. That case was fought all the way to the Supreme Court where the teachers’ college won in an 8-1 decision in 2001.

“For the state to say through their law societies, ‘We will not recognize you as professionals even though we fully admit you make fully competent lawyers in this case’ this could be expanded to medical doctors, social workers and teachers,” said Schutten.

“Basically what the state has said, even though we fully admit you are completely competent, we are going to say because of your religious beliefs we will not recognize your credentials,” Schutten said. “That to me is a very scary proposition and I hope that it will be roundly and soundly defeated at the Supreme Court of Canada.”

“It’s an important national question and hopefully, the Supreme Court will reaffirm the decision it already made in the B.C. Teachers College case against Trinity Western University,” said constitutional lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

“It’s scary,” Carpay said. “There’s a vicious intolerance there for Christian morality and for the freedom of people to live in a community of their own choosing with a voluntary code of conduct for those who choose to belong to the community while studying law.”

“The law societies are OK with individuals practising traditional moral beliefs about sexuality as individuals, there is no bar on those people becoming lawyers, and yet when these very same individuals live together in community, the law society says, “Oh that’s not acceptable,’ ” Carpay said.

“People forget that every private organization discriminates against people who disagree with that organization’s beliefs and goals and practices.”

“It’s a bit ridiculous to pretend we are living in a world where Vancouver’s gay soccer team called Out for Kicks must welcome Muslims, Orthodox Jews or evangelical Christians who want to go into that environment and preach that gay sex is sinful,” said Carpay. “The gay soccer league is not going to want that.”

“Every organization discriminates against those who disagree with it. That’s what a free society is all about. It’s about your freedom to connect with other people and create your own church, your own charity, your own mosque, your own temple, your own basketball league, your own art appreciation society, what have you.”

Both ARPA and the Justice Centre are likely to seek intervener status in the case.

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