Canadian deans accused of ‘anti-religious bias’ over attempt to block Christian law school

jonathan-raymondCanadian law deans are harbouring an “anti-religious bias” in their bid to block a prominent evangelical university from opening the country’s first Christian law school, according to supporters of the school, which has students and faculty follow a strict moral code.

In a letter publicized this week, the Canadian Council of Law Deans took aim at Trinity Western University’s “community covenant” — a code of conduct that includes a pledge to remain “abstinen[t] from sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness between a man and a woman.”

Bill Flanagan, president of the council of deans, said this covenant discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual students and that discrimination is “fundamentally incompatible” with the core values of Canadian law schools and of an equal society.

“To admit a new law school that has a policy that expressly discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation is something that is very troubling for us,” he said.

In the letter, dated Nov 20, 2012, the deans ask the Federation of Canadian Law Societies to consider the covenant before giving the private Langley, B.C., university accreditation to start up a law school.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us our own selection of world view”

– Don Hutchinson, General Counsel, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

The university and its supporters are dismissing the law deans’ concerns as unfounded and old hat.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us our own selection of world view,” said Don Hutchinson, the vice president and general counsel at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “The practice of law does not allow for engaging in hateful behaviour any more than the practice of teaching or any other occupation in Canada. So the concerns seem to me to be unjustified.”

Trinity Western University president Jonathan Raymond said the law deans are “beating an old drum.” People raised hackles about the covenant more than a decade ago as Trinity prepared to open a teacher’s college. The Supreme Court heard the case and ruled in favour of the university in 2001, citing the right to “freedom of conscience and religion.”

“The fear of what would be taught in a classroom 10 years ago, that’s never materialized, it’s not going to materialize and it’s not going to happen in a law school,” he said. “We’re not going to teach anti-gay curriculum.”

No one has ever been thrown out for breaking the sexual intimacy aspect of the covenant, Mr. Raymond said, adding that Trinity submitted a “strong proposal” they are “confident” will be approved, sometime in March or April.

‘The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us our own selection of world view’

Mr. Flanagan, dean of the Queen’s University law school, said the council is aware of the 2001 Supreme Court ruling, but is taking a “principled position” instead.

While the university does not feel “under fire” or targeted as a religious institution, Mr. Hutchinson feels there is a bias in play.   “My expectation [going forward] is that the opposition will be framed, as it has been, in a manner that objects to a law school that is teaching from a religious perspective purely and simply because of an anti-religious bias on the part of those who object,” he said.

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