Trinity Western University

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

I’ve been reporting for some time now on the legal woes that Trinity Western University has been having with its bid to be the first Christian law school in Canada. Like many other Christian colleges, it has a doctrinal covenant students must sign that includes a promise to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

LGBTQ rights folks decided that this doctrinal stand was rampant discrimination and were successful at dislodging TWU’s bid, even as the battle went to the country’s highest court.

Then Trinity moved the chairs around a bit this past week.  

The best-written article on this change was from the National Post with a head reading: “Still seeking law school, Trinity Western drops sexual ‘covenant’ for students." It ran along with a sympathetic YouTube video about TWU, which appears with this blog post.

A Christian university in British Columbia that lost a Supreme Court battle to create an evangelical law school has dropped its controversial requirement for all students to sign a contract that forbids any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Many observers, including some who intervened in the court case, saw this as a preliminary step toward a renewed push for an accredited law school. Trinity Western University, in Langley outside Vancouver, first announced plans to offer legal degrees in 2012, only to find itself locked in litigation with law societies in Ontario and B.C., which refused to accredit it.

The school’s new motion, passed last week but only released Tuesday, reads: “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”

The decision removes the primary problem considered by the Supreme Court in its June decision, which was the mandatory nature of the “Community Covenant.” 

Further down, you get the school’s denial that the change was done with ulterior motives.

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BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

BBC puts half the facts in its Trinity Western lede, adding note of confusion to this story

When you look at prestige brand names in the world of news, it's hard to find institutions that can match the global impact of The New York Times and BBC News.

Journalists here in America are constantly aware of the impact of the Times, in terms of shaping the priorities of other newspapers from coast to coast. It's hard to find a small circle of journalists with more power than the editors who decide what goes on A1 in the Times.

However, anyone who has traveled around the world and gazed at hotel-room televisions knows that the BBC is omnipresent and very powerful just about everywhere.

Thus, let me add an editorial note to my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin's report -- "Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed" -- focusing on how Canadian journalists covered the Trinity Western University decision at the Supreme Court of Canada.

In particular, I would like to focus on how this short report produced by the gatekeepers at the BBC handled a key detail in the community covenant (or as the CBC described it, the "so-called community covenant") that defines the doctrinal standards that guide life on that evangelical Protestant campus.

The headline on this report is certainly blunt, but it is accurate: "Canada's Supreme Court rules LGBT rights trump religious freedom." This brings us to the story's lede:

Canada's top court has ruled in favour of denying accreditation to a Christian law school that banned students from having gay sex.

Now, let me say right up front that this statement is accurate, sort of, and half-way true.

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Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

Trinity Western law school gets nixed, while the Canadian news coverage is mixed

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:

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Do Canadian journalists get the basic religious freedom issues in Trinity Western case?

Do Canadian journalists get the basic religious freedom issues in Trinity Western case?

An evangelical Christian university in British Columbia that has been blocked from starting its own law school got its day in court late last week. What was supposed to be Canada’s first Christian law school has had a lot of delays in getting off the ground because of lawsuits.

Nine judges on Canada’s Supreme Court, meeting in Ottawa, deliberated whether a law school can be accredited because its students must affirm traditional Christian doctrines on sex outside of traditional marriage (thereby excluding sexually active gay students) although, if you read Trinity Western University's covenant carefully, it does not mandate that students be Christian.

The case is known as  Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada and Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia Society.

I wrote about this case a few weeks ago and I thought Canadian media would be full of stories on the hearing -- but that’s not been the case. The Lawyer’s Daily, published by LexisNexis Canada, had the most complete account, which is what I start with here:

Day one of the much-anticipated Trinity Western University (TWU) hearing at the Supreme Court featured tough judicial questions for both sides, but most questions were directed to counsel for the evangelical Christian university which contends British Columbia and Ontario legal regulators shouldn’t have denied it accreditation for its proposed law school.
In the overflowing courtroom jammed with 69 counsel, and dozens of spectators watching on a big screen outside, nine judges probed TWU’s counsel Kevin Boonstra of Kuhn LLP and Robert Staley of Bennett Jones…

For those of you wanting to read this, there is a paywall, but you can get two weeks of it free, which means that all you need do is create a log-on to scan the piece.

Themes explored by the judges, who will also hear from 27 interveners on Dec. 1, included: How broad or narrow is the law societies’ statutory mandate to protect the public interest -- and did the regulators go beyond their jurisdiction by denying accreditation based on TWU’s controversial admissions policy requiring all would-be students, including those who are LGBTQ2, to sign a religious-based code of conduct restricting sexual intimacy to opposite-sex married couples. ...

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Canadian law school case before Supreme Court tests press impartiality -- again

Canadian law school case before Supreme Court tests press impartiality -- again

Far from the maddening crowd of Donald Trump in Asia and Roy Moore in Alabama is a legal battle in Canada involving a private Christian law school that can’t get accredited because the institution affirms two millennia of Christian doctrine forbidding sex outside of marriage.

The matter is so contentious that its case will be heard Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 before the Canadian Supreme Court. Of course, here at GetReligion we are primarily interested in noting whether mainstream journalists are covering both sides of this debate with anything approaching fairness and accuracy.

I’ll have to hopscotch between news accounts to explain the whole thing. The Toronto Globe and Mail describes Trinity Western University thus

The private university, established in 1962, has a "Community Covenant" obliging students to sign a promise not to engage in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Law societies in both provinces voted against licensing the graduates, calling the school discriminatory. B.C.'s Court of Appeal overturned one such rejection, while Ontario's top court upheld the other.

Several paragraphs down, you get this:

Two same-sex advocacy groups, Start Proud and OUTlaws, say in a joint filing that the Community Covenant means LGBTQ persons, including married ones, "can never be their authentic selves while attending TWU. … No one should be forced to renounce their dignity and self-respect in order to obtain an education."

This case is a bit of a headspinner for Americans used to the likes of schools such as Brigham Young University and Liberty University, both of which are private schools that have doctrinal covenants forbidding students to sleep around. These –- and many other universities’ –- prohibition against same-sex relationships have caused some to charge them with violating Title IX (which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender stereotypes).

Although many American religious institutions have been granted exemption from Title IX since 2014, that hasn't stopped gay activists from trying to keep BYU out of the Big 12 (football) Conference because of its standards on extramarital sex. My colleague Bobby Ross has written on this

Canada apparently has no similar protections for faith-based schools, leaving them wide open to lawsuits.

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