The Canadian Supreme Court set a new precedent last week, declaring one Christian university’s proposed law school can be denied accreditation over its views on marriage.
In a highly anticipated ruling, the high court decided seven to two that the law societies of Ontario and British Columbia do, in fact, have the right to refuse to license graduates of Trinity Western University’s potential law school, The Globe and Mail reported.
At the center of the dispute, which has been ongoing since 2015, is TWU’s “community covenant,” an agreement barring students from any sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.
While Earl Phillips, executive director of the proposed law school, described the ruling as a major blow to religious freedom, he said the school will likely “review” the conservative policy, which is fairly consistent with mainstream Christian theology.
“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,” he said.
American-born Canadian columnist Margaret Wente argued the Supreme Court’s ruling shows that, in the eyes of the government, “law societies’ right to bar these graduates from practice is more important than preserving TWU’s religious freedom.”
“The two law societies decided that this covenant would discriminate against same-sex married couples,” Wente explained, “and that this discrimination would fatally taint the law school and every student in it — so much so that they would be automatically unsuited to be lawyers.”
The two dissenting judges — Justice Russell Brown and Justice Suzanne Côté — argued the law societies were stepping out of bounds by denying accreditation to the proposed law school, noting they should only be ruling on the academic fitness of the legal program, not the religious doctrine that informs campus life.
The decision, the two justices said, infringes on religious liberty.
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“The unequal access resulting from the covenant is a function of accommodating religious freedom, which itself advances the public interest by promoting diversity in a liberal, pluralist society,” they wrote in a joint statement.
The covenant, it should be noted, is not solely focused on sexuality.
It also forbids “lying, cheating, or other forms of dishonesty,” “use of materials that are degrading, dehumanizing, exploitive, hateful, or gratuitously violent, including, but not limited to pornography,” “drunkenness, underage consumption of alcohol,” as well as “the misuse or abuse of substances including prescribed drugs.”
TWU, which was founded in 1962, is based in British Columbia and is an evangelical liberal arts institution, similar to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, which subscribes to similarly conservative views on marriage.