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WTF Wednesday: Straights-Only Law School, Patent Pending

Kate Hefford

The Federation of Canadian Law Societies is reviewing a controversial proposal. Trinity Western University, a Christian liberal arts school in Langley, B.C., applied to add a law school to their institution in June 2012—one that imposes their Bible-based views.

But now they’ve hit a snag.

It’s a snag that is thousands strong. Law students and alumni across Canada are fighting back with a letter-writing campaign. They’re criticizing the “Community Covenant Agreement” that all Trinity Western students and staff must sign. If the Bible had a list of rules for schools, this would be it. One of its passages states that “sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.” Failure to comply can result in expulsion.

On Monday, students from eight Canadian law schools signed joint letters to the FCLS. “TWU’s definition of marriage deprives LGBTQ students of rights that others enjoy, and is therefore discriminatory,” reads the letter.

The students’ stances vary, but most want Trinity Western to remove the covenant agreement or stay out of teaching law. A major concern is that this law school would be, in a sense, illegal—and a mockery of law schools by not following the law.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t apply to private schools like Trinity Western. But as the letter reads, “law schools are to propagate the values of the Canadian legal system, including those set out in the Charter.”

These laws that guarantee our rights and freedoms and pretty crucial to our society, if you ask me. The Charter describes that happy place where every individual has the right to “equal benefit of the law without discrimination.”

It’s understood that Trinity Western is exclusively for students of the Christian faith. Hell, it says in their Student Handbook from 2011-2012 that staff and students should engage each other in the school’s “mission to prepare godly Christian leaders.” But Canadian citizens won’t benefit from lawyers who marginalize them.

“Christian lawyer” is an actual job title. Thomas Schuck, lawyer and member of the Catholic Civil Rights League, represented anti-gay activist William Whatcott in 2011. Forty-five-year-old Whatcott, from Edmonton, appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada to defend the freedom of (hate) speech. He was previously fined for handing out homophobic and anti-abortion flyers and offending passersby. Whatcott is currently trying to reopen his case to prove his flyers aren’t a form of hate speech.

It should be noted that the Whatcott VS homosexuality case was deemed a freedom of religion case. Lawyers represent both the good guys and the bad guys, the victims and the perpetrators. So would Trinity Western be creating hate-speech representatives, under the guise of freedom of religion?

“We’re not against the freedom of religion,” says Jill Bishop, president of a gay-straight alliance at the University of Saskatchewan. Bishop attended Trinity Western, and is one of the letter’s signatories.  “[The school] should appreciate the values of the Canadian justice system.”

This is really a question of what Canadian law should exist to protect. How free is the “freedom of religion” clause, really, when it impedes the freedom of non-heterosexuals and non-Christians to attend a school?

Two weeks ago, Dalhousie’s Schulick School of Law held a meeting to discuss the proposal. Many straight attendees said that religion shouldn’t play any part in teaching law. Many others were indifferent. A Christian speaker retorted that attending the school and signing to the covenant is a personal and voluntary choice. The point is that Trinity Western only accepts one voice. Like the meeting held at Dalhousie, the law best serves us when all voices are heard.

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