Proposed Christian law school under fire due to ban on gay relationships

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A Christian college in B.C.'s Fraser Valley could find its effort to found a "Christian law school" blocked by Canada's legal-education establishment.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley just east of Vancouver, has found its application challenged by the Council of Canadian Law Deans.

According to Vancouver Sun religion reporter Douglas Todd, the council sent a letter to the Federation of Canadian Law Societies criticizing Trinity's proposal based on the university's longstanding requirement barring homosexual relationships. The federation has a role in accrediting law-degree programs.

All Trinity students and staff are required to sign its Community Covenant Agreement, which among other things calls on them to "observe modesty, purity and appropriate intimacy in all relationships, reserve sexual expressions of intimacy for marriage," and abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

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“It’s very troubling for Canadian law school deans,” council president Bill Flanagan told the Sun.

The council said the covenant makes it clear "gay, lesbian or bisexual students may be subject to disciplinary measures, including expulsion."

“This is a matter of great concern for all members," Flanagan wrote in the letter. "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unlawful in Canada and fundamentally at odds with the core values of all Canadian law schools.”

But Trinity president Jonathan Raymond rejected the law deans' assertions. The covenant is "consistent with federal and provincial law," he said.

In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Trinity's right to impose such strictures a decade ago. In a case brought by the B.C. College of Teachers, the high court ruled in 2001 that a religious school can exempt itself from human rights legislation barring anti-gay discrimination based on Charter protections of freedom of conscience and religion, the Sun noted.

The law deans also questioned the covenant itself but Trinity is by no means alone in imposing a bible-based code of conduct on students and staff. For example, Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ont., includes "homosexual practice," and "fornication, co-habiting in a sexual relationship before marriage and adultery," among proscribed behaviours in its student handbook.

Raymond told CTV News the covenant and its ideals are an important part of Trinity's identity.

“There’s nowhere in any document that we say something hostile towards gays or lesbians,” Raymond said, but added he didn't know what would happen if a married, same-sex couple was found to be attending Trinity.

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"It’s the beginning of a conversation. It’s never happened.”

Students attending Trinity presumably know going in that it's a Christian-based school. If its bid for a law faculty is approved, would-be lawyers who object to its policy have 16 other law schools in Canada to choose from.