Canada’s First Christian Law School Pleads Case to Supreme Court

Trinity Western University’s plans to launch a law program—a first for a Christian institution in Canada—were stalled for four years, as the school faced legal challenges over its campus covenant, which bars sexual activity outside of traditional marriage. Law societies in three Canadian provinces argued that the school policy discriminated against LGBT students, and refused to accredit future Trinity Western graduates as a result.

 

Today the Canadian Supreme Court began hearing a high-profile religious freedom case that will determine the fate of an evangelical law school in suburban Vancouver.

Trinity Western University’s plans to launch a law program—a first for a Christian institution in Canada—were stalled for four years, as the school faced legal challenges over its campus covenant, which bars sexual activity outside of traditional marriage.

Law societies in three Canadian provinces argued that the school policy discriminated against LGBT students, and refused to accredit future Trinity Western graduates as a result.

Canadian law schools must have provincial law society approval (in addition to sanctions from the government’s advanced education ministry and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada) in order to operate.

In three provinces—British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario—the university defended its position in court, saying the covenant is a reflection of the school’s Christian values and applies broadly to students of all faiths and sexual orientations. It won its case in two of the three, and has appealed up to the Supreme Court in hopes of finally securing approval to operate.

“We are a private institution and we operate in a way that is consistent with our Christian faith,” Earl Phillips, the law school’s executive director, told CBC News. “This is not just a restriction on Trinity Western University, this is not just on evangelical Christians—it’s on the entire Christian church. It’s on all faiths.”

In the joint cases of Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada and Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia Society, Canada’s highest court will determine whether the law societies’ refusal to accredit Trinity Western’s planned law school violates the university’s religious freedom.

The nine-justice court will hear arguments in the case Thursday and Friday. Trinity Western students traveled to Ottawa to distribute hot chocolate to the crowds gathered at the Supreme Court to hear the case, which was also live-streamed.

This is a big deal for evangelicals in Canada, who see the outcome of the case impacting their own institutions and the future of religion in public life. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) held a day of prayer last Sunday to plead for religious freedom in their country.

“A decision against [Trinity Western] could mean that a religious institution can no longer maintain community expectations, and thereby erode their religious distinctiveness,” the organizations stated. “A negative decision may not only potentially trigger a tightening of restrictions on other Canadian Christian institutions of higher learning, but also restrict other religious organizations that ask its members to live counter-culturally.”

EFC affiliates are among a record-setting number of intervenors expected to appear before the court to weigh in on the case.

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