Trinity Western University is a highly regarded liberal arts university located in Langley, British Columbia. It is unusual in being a private university, and in having a Christian ethos. It is accredited by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (the de facto ‘kingmaker’ of Canadian post-secondary institutions) and it has received numerous accolades for the quality of its education.
In 2012, TWU applied to start its own law school. Like all the other programs the university offers, the program would be “faith-based” and would require students to adhere to a “community covenant” that requires certain standards of behavior, including a promise not to engage in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” This is widely interpreted as a prohibition on sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Because TWU is a privately-funded institution, the university administration assumed that this would be a non-issue as long as the program was delivered with the same high standards as their other educational offerings.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
In 2014 a man named Trevor Loke filed a petition challenging the B.C. government’s accreditation of the TWU’s law school on the grounds that its “community covenant” denies access to gay and lesbian students – this despite the fact that gay and lesbian students already attend TWU.
A similar case, based on TWU’s “community covenant” requirement in its teacher training program, already made it to the Supreme Court of Canada way back in 2001. In that case, the court found that the university’s “community covenant” did not interfere with its ability to produce quality graduates nor had there been any proof the university had discriminated against applicants because of their sexual orientation.
Why should the courts revisit this issue?
The CCF, as an organization that believes in religious freedom, sexual freedom between consenting adults, and freedom of contract, agrees with the SCC’s 2001 decision. Though some individuals may dislike TWU’s traditional definition of marriage and appropriate sexual behaviour, everyone should be able to agree that a private institution should have freedom of contract and religion.
The CCF believes that if Mr. Loke’s lawsuit is successful, it could create a dangerous precedent. Accordingly, we are seeking leave to intervene in this case in support of freedom of contract and freedom of religion.
By blocking accreditation of TWU graduates, the B.C. government would essentially bar TWU law students from practicing law because of their religious beliefs.
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