VANCOUVER (CUP)—A document all Trinity Western University students sign, called a “Community Covenant,” requires them to be committed Christians. It has rules banning pornography and on-campus boozing.
And a section titled “Healthy Sexuality” requires that students adhere to “a Biblical view of sexuality,”meaning “sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.”
Although TWU administrators have argued through various media outlets that this section has never been enforced, the current rules would still allow the University to discipline, or expel, a student for being openly gay.
The Canadian Council of Law Deans takes serious issue with this rule.
“In the view of the Council of Canadian Law Deans, it involves discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Bill Flanagan, president of the council and dean of law at Queen’s University.
“So the long and short of it is that gay and lesbian students at TWU are subject to the threat of expulsion, this is a matter of great concern to Canadian law schools. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is fundamentally at odds with the core values of all Canadian law schools,” he says.
Flanagan says the Council’s objection to this is primarily a moral one, though a letter they sent to Canada’s Federation of Law Societies raises the question of whether this kind of rule about sexuality could violate Canadian human rights law.
Trinity Western fired back, arguing that a 2001 Supreme Court case (also involving TWU) allows any religious school to exempt themselves from human rights laws regarding discrimination.
But Flanagan and the council maintain that TWU’s rules are immoral, regardless of whether they break the law.
“We’re not taking a position yet on the legality of TWU, we’re reserving the right to do so, of course, but first and foremost we want to make a stated principle of objection to the practice,” Flanagan said.
He addressed statements from TWU arguing the issue had been overblown because the school isn’t actually in the practice of disciplining gay and lesbian students.
“If that is the case, if gay and lesbian students are in fact welcome at TWU, I would encourage…the University to reconsider its Covenant which, on its face, is directly discriminatory.
“Is that the message that TWU wants to send to its gay and lesbian students?”
Christian law schools are common in the U.S., many of them dating back to an era when, in general, there was greater overlap and involvement between the church and colleges or universities.
The proposed law school is being spearheaded by Janet Epp-Buckingham, a TWU professor, legal academic, and conservative Christian activist.
She said most of the proposed school’s curriculum wouldn’t be explicitly Christian, but two courses, one on the history of law and one on the development of the common law, will include Bible-based components.
She hopes the school will be welcoming to aspiring Christian law students, some of whom can feel out-of-place in secular university classrooms.
“There are Christian law students who have expressed to me over the last 20 years they have found that law professors tend to be derogatory about faith perspective expressed in the classroom,” Epp-Buckingham says.
“There are not very many Christian law professors, but there are actually quite a lot of Chrisian law students.”