TORONTO, ON. – Trinity Western University is disappointed with today’s ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal. Although the court found that TWU’s freedom of religion rights were breached, it upheld the Ontario Divisional Court’s decision to allow the Law Society of Upper Canada to deny approval to graduates of TWU’s proposed School of Law. The university will take the Ontario decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The court correctly found an infringement of TWU’s rights,” said Earl Phillips, the executive director of TWU’s proposed School of Law. “However, we are most disappointed that the court found the infringement to be justifiable. That finding is a serious limitation to freedom of conscience and religion under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“This isn’t just a loss for TWU,” says Amy Robertson, a university spokesperson. “This is a loss for all Canadians. Freedom of conscience and religion is the first of the fundamental freedoms mentioned in the Charter. It is deeply compromised by this decision, and everyone in Canada, religious or not, should be concerned. Canada is a diverse, pluralistic society, committed to living peacefully together even when we disagree. Many countries don’t enjoy this privilege.”
The Law Society of Upper Canada refused to recognize graduates of TWU’s proposed School of Law after a vote in 2014. TWU took the law society to court, and in July 2015, a three-justice panel of the Ontario Divisional Court ruled against TWU even after finding that the university’s right to freedom of religion had been breached. TWU appealed, and the decision was presented today.
“Our teachers, nurses and business graduates in particular are sought after for their compassion, integrity, training, and skill,” said Phillips. “After we make our case in Canada’s Supreme Court, I look forward to seeing the difference that graduates of TWU’s School of Law will make.”
The Law Society of Upper Canada challenged TWU’s Community Covenant, which asks students to live according to Christian values, including integrity, honesty and care. It also asks students to abstain from sexual intimacy outside of marriage, which it defines as between a man and a woman.
“The Community Covenant is a core part of defining the TWU community as distinctly Christian,” said Robertson. “We are not making a statement about LGBTQ people; we are making a statement about traditional Christian marriage, which is sacred to us. The same covenant calls for all members of the TWU community to respect the dignity of others regardless of their background. Loving one another without exception is one of the most important principles of the Christian faith.”
All students, including LGBTQ students, are welcome to attend the university and be open about their identities. “Based on my conversations with others in the TWU community, I know that LGBTQ students attend TWU, and they find it a safe, welcoming place to be,” says Robertson.
TWU is awaiting appeal decisions in B.C. and Nova Scotia, where law societies have also said they will not recognize graduates of TWU’s proposed School of Law.