This country is to have a new law school—one unlike any other existing accredited Canadian legal institution: On Wednesday, British Columbia's Minister for Advanced Education, Amrik Virk, announced that his department would follow the advice of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and approve the creation of a law school by Trinity Western University (TWU), an overtly Christian institution that requires all students, staff and faculty to pledge that that they will abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
—National Post editorial board, December 20, 2013
While the rest of the country ponders what it means for a religious institution to be granted a public-serving law school, the news this week has been illustrated rather more personally for me.
The Federation of Canadian Law Societies (FCLS) announcement prompted a faculty member at the law school I attend to encourage students to visit a crowdfunding site, created to oppose the approval of this "new no-gays law school."
And, a year ago, our Dean shared his letter to the FCLS in which he expressed—on behalf of the Canadian Council of Law Deans—the concern that TWU's covenant, which all its students must sign, "specifically contemplates that gay, lesbian or bisexual students may be subject to disciplinary measures including expulsion." The covenant obliges students to abstain from sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.
The characterization of TWU as a "no gays" school is dishonest. Gay persons may and do attend TWU. That any student engaging in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage may be subject to discipline tends to be ignored, as it is in the Dean's letter. To account for it would be to acknowledge that the real issue is over how TWU understands marriage.
And why shouldn't TWU understand marriage differently than other law schools? Given that our Supreme Court itself was divided in several cases in recent decades on the question of whether the Charter's equality guarantee requires the legal benefits of marriage to be available to same-sex couples, to characterize TWU's view of marriage as bigoted and somehow less acceptable is a bit of tougher sell. And if it is the no-sex-outside-marriage rule that is the problem, TWU's opponents must go on about the repressive sexual ethics of orthodox Christianity as it applies to everybody. But as Clayton Ruby and Dean Flanagan know, labelling the school a "no gays" school or calling its covenant homophobic has more rhetorical force and gets more media play than arguing that different views on marriage and sexual ethics have no legitimacy.
That TWU has faced monolithic opposition from existing law schools across the country is a good indicator of the need for this school. Existing law faculties fail to represent the variety of moral and philosophical views of the Canadian population. Whether it be a school that studies and teaches law from a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other perspective, if it meets the basic requirements for competence—as the Federation decided this week that TWU's program does—it should be welcomed.
Perhaps the presence of a Christian law school and the proud display of TWU degrees in law offices across Canada will give pause to those who so thoughtlessly denounce the school. This will depend in part, of course, on the quality of its graduates—their character, understanding of Canadian law, and professional competence. But even if TWU grads are the finest of advocates, we see from the breadth and zeal of the opposition TWU has faced that they will be judged unfairly by some. The shame in that, however, will not be theirs.