The Trinity Western University Law School will not be permitted to open by the Supreme Court of Canada. What does this mean for religious freedom in Canada?
By now, I suppose most people have heard that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Trinity Western University will not be permitted to open a Law School. At issue was the community covenant agreement that all students are expected to sign. At issue was one part of the covenant, dealing with sexuality. The Covenant states that members of TWU commit themselves to observing modesty, purity and appropriate intimacy in all relationships and that they reserve sexual expression of intimacy for marriage, and within marriage take every reasonable step to resolve conflict and avoid divorce. TWU also stresses that marriage is the relationship of one man to one woman.
It must be noted that Trinity also asks students to commit to treating all persons with respect and dignity, upholding their God-given worth from conception to death. That part of the covenant does demand that those who might disagree with Christians’ standards of virtue be treated with the kind of honour that is due anyone created in the image of God. For this reason, many would argue that Trinity provides the basis for the kinds of relationships that are encouraged between Christians and those who would disagree with Christian understandings of morality.
That notwithstanding, the Supreme Court has ruled that Trinity Western University Law School may not create a barrier to LGBTQ students who don’t share the school’s beliefs. As I understand the ruling (and I haven’t read it), it seems that requiring a Christian ethical standard at the school is deemed inconsistent with the school’s application to begin a law school.
But does this ruling have other ramifications, or will it be confined to the law school? If the teachers union or the nurses union decides to sue Trinity, will the university also lose its right to train both teachers and nurses? How about other degrees? We don’t yet know.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that one of the top advisors for the Prime Minister’s office immediately posted the decision on his website and added the hashtag #CanadaSummerJobs. In short, it would seem that top officials in the Prime Minister’s office do believe that this decision does provide all the fodder to prevent government funding for religious groups who do not hold the present morality.
But if that is so, what of other government perks that religious groups have enjoyed, including tax-exempt status on buildings, and the ability to offer tax receipts on charitable donations? Will these also be subject to a government values test? How about hiring procedures in religious organizations?
I am not sounding an alarm bell. It may be that the Supreme Court Ruling is limited in its scope. But I do think it far more likely that it is not. And if not, how far will this ruling be applied?
All that to say, we may have turned a corner on religious liberty in Canada. The idea of a free society that allows people to believe and organize according to those beliefs may be hard pressed in the future. At the very least, Christians should be aware. We should pray. We should write our MP’s and express our concerns that Christian freedoms not be under attack in Canada.