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Trinity Western University
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Trinity Western University

Christian law school sues for Canadian legal societies’ recognition

Religious Liberty

The largest Christian university in Canada on Tuesday announced it will pursue legal action to secure two provincial recognitions for its future law school graduates.

Trinity Western University (TWU) is planning to open Canada’s first Christian law school in fall 2016, but gay activists have vehemently opposed the proposal because TWU requires employees and students to sign a community covenant pledging to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Unlike in the United States, where law schools open and then gain accreditation, Canadian schools must submit proposals for accreditation beforehand. In December, the British Columbia Minister of Advanced Education and the Canadian Federation of Law Societies issued back-to-back approvals for TWU’s law school. Since then, provincial law societies—which essentially hold veto power over the federation’s decisions—in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island have followed suit.

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But last month, law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia narrowly voted not to recognize future TWU graduates. Since the school has already secured mobility agreements, its students could gain recognition elsewhere and then move to those provinces, but the school said that would create a “dangerous precedent” that would effectively mean “one must change or hide their religious identity in order to participate in society.”

“We feel the provincial law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia have made decisions that are legally incorrect,” TWU President Bob Kuhn said, adding the decisions matter for all people of faith.

Kuhn, who became TWU’s president last year, was the school’s lead counsel in 2001 when it traveled to the Canadian Supreme Court to gain approval for an accredited teaching program. In an 8-1 decision, the high court ruled TWU could keep intact its views on marriage and still graduate accredited teachers.

Benjamin Bull, executive director for Alliance Defending Freedom Global, told me TWU “absolutely must go back to court—otherwise they give in the forces of liberal facism.” Bull said he expects TWU to win legally in the long run, but only after it “suffers its lumps” in the court of public opinion.

TWU on Tuesday also announced it will seek court approval to be added as a defendant  in a lawsuit a gay activist filed last month against Amrik Virk, the minister of advanced education in British Columbia who signed off on the law school proposal in December. Trevor Loke, a gay man who says he is a Christian, claims the school’s community covenant discriminates against him. TWU wants to be a respondent in the case so it has the opportunity to present arguments in court.

Despite the pending litigation, TWU, located in Langley, B.C., said it has all the necessary approvals and will continue moving forward with its law school plans.

Bull and other religious freedom advocates believe the TWU case may be a bellwether for religious freedom in America.

“Canada is the canary in the coal mine for the United States,” Bull said. “What starts there comes here—in time—and we should be alert because of that.”

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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