Trinity Western University, an evangelical tertiary institution in British Columbia, has lost two cases it had brought protesting the decision of two Canadian Provincial Law Societies to not authorise graduates of their proposed Law School as able to practice in the Provinces. The reason for the denial of accreditation was that TWU requires students and staff to agree to a Community Covenant Agreement, which undertakes (among other things) that they will not engage while studying or working at TWU in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. The Supreme Court of Canada, in two linked cases, has now held by a 7-2 majority that the Law Societies were justified in their refusal to accredit the TWU Law program, on the basis that any interference with religious freedom was minor, and that the Societies were entitled to take the view that the Covenant requirement imposed “harm” on LGBTQ law students. I disagree with both those conclusions, and believe that the dissenting judgment of Côté and Brown JJ is a far better analysis of the situation.
In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 584 U. S. ____ (2018) (June 4, 2018), the US Supreme Court by 7-2 overturned previous decisions against a Christian cake maker, Jack Phillips, who had declined to make a wedding cake for a same sex wedding. While the basis of the decision of the majority is fairly narrow, the outcome is clearly correct, and even in the narrow reasons offered by Justice Kennedy, there are a number of important affirmations which support religious freedom.
Yesterday saw the launch in Canberra of the first report by a body called the “Study of the Economic Impact of Religion on Society” (SEIROS), looking into the general impact of religious belief on the Australian community. The report, prepared by respected economic modellers at Deloitte based on a commissioned survey designed by researchers for SEIROS, can be downloaded here: Donating and volunteering behaviour associated with religiosity.
Today the Rev the Hon Fred Nile, for the Christian Democrat Party, introduced a Bill to add “religious beliefs or religious activities” into NSW legislation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms) Bill 2018 will add new Parts 3B and 5A into the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) (“ADA”), making it unlawful in various areas to discriminate on the grounds of religion, or to subject religious bodies to a detriment. The proposals will also make it unlawful to penalise someone for holding views on marriage as the union of a man or a woman, or for holding the view that there are only two genders.
Should a Muslim woman who wears a face covering for religious reasons, be entitled to give evidence in court with her face covered? This important issue, which has been discussed in other common law jurisdictions, has now been considered in the NSW Court of Appeal, in Elzahed v State of New South Wales  NSWCA 103 (18 May 2018). The Court concluded that no error had been shown in a ruling by a trial judge, that Ms Elzahad was not entitled to keep her face covered while testifying.
This is a paper I presented recently at an evening considering issues around euthanasia and assisted dying: Euthanasia Paper May 2018. It presents reasons why changing the law in these areas is not a good idea in the interests of society at large and the vulnerable sick and elderly in particular.
For further material on this issue, see the excellent site “Health Professionals Say No“, which as well as providing a long list of health professionals who oppose euthanasia, also links to a set of resources for further study. And for a recent UK paper exploring the meaning of “dignity” in this context, see the report Dignity at the End of Life: What’s Beneath the Assisted Dying Debate? from the Theos Institute. (Thanks to Dr Megan Best for these extra resources.)
There is also an excellent recent piece here, “Physician-Assisted Suicide: Why Neutrality by Organized Medicine Is Neither Neutral Nor Appropriate” (2 May 2018, Journal of General Internal Medicine) arguing for health professionals to continue to actively oppose Physician Assisted Suicide.
These comments from the front page of the first website noted above summarise the issues very well:
We believe that crossing the line to intentionally assist a person to suicide would fundamentally weaken the doctor-patient relationship, which is based on trust and respect. The power of the clinician/patient relationship cannot be over-estimated. It is proven the desire to die diminishes dramatically when appropriate care and support is provided.
We are especially concerned with protecting vulnerable people who can feel they have become a burden to others, and are committed to supporting those who find their own life situations a heavy burden. We believe such laws would undermine the public perception of the dignity and value of human life in all its different stages and conditions. There is strong evidence to the inherent lack of safety and proven abuses where physician assisted suicide and euthanasia laws exist.
Government focus should be on the compassionate and equitable provision of Social Services, Health Care and Palliative Care toward maintaining and protecting the dignity and lives of those with illness, age or disablement. There is still much to be done to address social, medical and mental health inequity and in our society.
Doctors and Healthcare Professionals are not necessary for the legalisation or practice of assisted suicide. Their involvement is being sought only to provide a cloak of medical legitimacy. Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals focus should be on saving lives and providing real care and support for those who are suffering.
In a Federation like Australia, different jurisdictions (States and Territories) may have different rules on what amounts to “discrimination” or “vilification”, and how those things interact with religious freedom. One of the pressing issues here in recent years has been whether there will be a “race to the bottom” in freedom of speech on religious issues, with one jurisdiction in particular, Tasmania, raising deep concerns with a very broad prohibition on causing “offence” related to matters such as sexual orientation.
Today the High Court of Australia, on appeal from NSW, has affirmed the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal that State and Territory “tribunals” (non-judicial panels usually used in discrimination issues) have no jurisdiction to impose penalties on residents of other Australian jurisdictions under their own local laws. The important decision in Burns v Corbett  HCA 15 (18 April 2018) (court-prepared summary available here) is a good outcome, and at the very least will force Australian jurisdictions to consider very carefully whether they want their local law to apply in other parts of the country. If they do, they will be required to give jurisdiction in those cases to their courts, rather than to lower tribunals.