Just after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado baker was discriminated against for his Christian beliefs that forbade him to make special same-sex-themed wedding cakes, the Canadian high court has have come out with a ruling that elevates gay rights over religious rights.
The Vancouver Sun, located not too many miles west of the Trinity Western University campus, was one of a number of Canadian outlets covering the ruling. Curiously, they used a Canadian Press wire service story instead of assigning one of its own reporters to it.
The Sun did provide a local react story by a reporter stationed on Trinity’s campus but it seems a bit odd to run wires for the main story when the subject is in your own back yard. Anyway, here was the top of this story (as we look for a winner in the most-biased lede competition):
Societies governing the legal profession have the right to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at a Christian university in B.C., the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.
In a pair of keenly anticipated decisions Friday, the high court said law societies in Ontario and British Columbia were entitled to ensure equal access to the bar, support diversity and prevent harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.
The cases pitted two significant societal values -- freedom of religion and promotion of equality -- against one another.
Trinity Western University, a private post-secondary institution in Langley, was founded on evangelical Christian principles and requires students to adhere to a covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman.
Well, at least that final paragraph accurately described the school's doctrinal covenant -- sort of. Notice that it's "evangelical" to teach doctrines common in all traditional Christian churches.
The Toronto Globe and Mail had a more gracefully written intro:
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of provincial law societies to reject the graduates of a proposed Christian law school over its requirement that students abstain from sex outside of heterosexual marriage.
In a highly anticipated contest between religious freedom and equality, most of the court said the limit on religious freedom was a minor one -- well short of “forced apostasy,” as five of the judges put it. By comparison, the effects on equality, if the school had been accredited, would have been large enough to threaten the integrity of the legal system, the judges said.
Finally, the winner of the contest for most biased lede graphs goes to CBC:
A B.C.-based evangelical Christian university has lost its legal battle over accreditation for a planned new law school, with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling today saying it's "proportionate and reasonable" to limit religious rights in order to ensure open access for LGBT students.
In a pair of 7-2 rulings, the majority of justices found the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario have the power to refuse accreditation based on Trinity Western University's so-called community covenant.
“So-called” community covenant?
C’mon folks. You can do better that that. Almost all voluntary associations -- secular or religious -- have some kind of statement of beliefs or policies that members accept in order to join that community.
This particular story brought in 4,805 comments in less than 24 hours, so there’s obviously strong feelings all around.
Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does allow for freedom of association, but that point didn't seem to rise to the top in the Trinity Western discussion. This decision is all about that right. Because if Trinity Western can’t build a law school with written standards of conduct for its students (something that’s pretty common in schools down in the Lower 48), then what is the future of doctrinally defined religious institutions in Maple Leaf Land?
For instance, British Columbia has a sizeable population of Sikhs. Let’s just say some of them wanted to start a college that mandates adherence to Sikh principles for its students. Could that be built in today’s Canada? If it mandates traditional marriage mores (and Sikh beliefs indeed do so), I’m guessing not. How about traditional Muslims? Orthodox Jews? A school attempting to follow Vatican guidelines on Catholic education?
I’ve written about Trinity’s case before but if you need more background, I recommend this National Post story from March, which is pretty even-handed. It also referred to U.S. law schools as an example:
Still, if Trinity would be both Canada’s first private law school and its first Christian law school, neither idea should be remotely novel to Canadian jurists. U.S. News and World Report ranks (Catholic) Notre Dame’s law school 20th in the nation, (Mormon) Brigham Young’s 46th, (Baptist) Baylor’s 51st and (Churches of Christ) Pepperdine’s 65th. All of those universities make it clear to students that sexual conduct is a matter for married men and women, please and thank you.
No one seems seriously to think those universities are turning out lawyers who don’t understand civil rights. Indeed, graduates of these schools have a well-established path to the Canadian bar -- a series of courses and examinations -- should they decide to practice here.
“Nobody questions your faith” during that process, observes Earl Phillips, executive director of Trinity’s law school. “Nobody questions the school that you came from, except for the purposes of assessing the quality of the legal education you got. And nobody asks about the community covenant you studied under at that law school.”
I noted with some amusement opinion pieces that do not see Canada’s southern neighbor as a good example. Read this post in the entertainment-oriented “Georgia Straight” weekly, noted with horror the straight-laced proclivities of their neighbor to the south (ie the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision on June 4) and congratulated Canadians for being much more open-minded.
It also gave some insight into the make-up of the court that made this decision. The dissenting justices, it pointed out, were appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government recruited parliamentary interns from Trinity. Trinity has been riding high lately and even ran this ad suggesting overseas students come to Canada instead of the U.S.A. to study.
So, there’s obviously a lot of split opinion about the ruling among Canadians. A poll on the pages of The Province asking readers what they thought of the court’s decision revealed (as of Saturday) 55.37 percent of readers saying no and 44.63 percent saying yes.
Even though the ruling was at the top of the news in Canada, there’s not a ripple of coverage below the 49th parallel other than this mainly aggregated story by Christianity Today. I’m hoping that changes, as what happens up there does matter down here.
If I were running a law school at a Christian university in the States, I’d be putting together a package for Canadian students right now. There might be some takers.