Update- Religious Freedom and a Canadian Law School

In a previous post I noted the ongoing controversy over whether Trinity Western University, in British Columbia, Canada, can train lawyers who will be able to practice in Canada. TWU as a Christian University requires its students to agree to comply with a Code of Conduct, part of which bans all sexual intimacy outside the traditional marriage between a man and woman. TWU’s Law program has actually been approved by the Canadian national accrediting body, the Federation of Canadian Law Societies. But as noted previously, a number of individual Provincial Law Societies have now indicated that, due to the Covenant being viewed as discrimination against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation, TWU graduates will not be admitted to practice law in those Provinces.

The first decision in what may be a number of judicial challenges to the refusal of Law Societies to accept TWU future graduates was handed down on 28 January 2015 in Nova Scotia. In Trinity Western University v Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, 2015 NSSC 25, Justice Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled in favour of TWU. (See press summary here.) His Honour held that the NSBS had acted beyond its powers by changing its rules to refuse to accept TWU graduates whose law degrees had been approved by the Federal FCLS, especially as it was accepted that there was no evidence that TWU graduates would unlawfully discriminate against anybody on the basis of their sexuality. In addition, his Honour held that the NSBS in making its decision was under a duty under the Canadian Charter to take into account the religious freedom rights of TWU students and graduates, and had not done so appropriately. Just a minor point- the final ruling is summed up in para [270] of the decision; the version available on the web today I think accidentally omits the word “not” from the final sentence in that paragraph. But the rest of the decision makes it crystal clear that his Honour thinks that

The NSBS resolution and regulation infringe on the freedom of religion of TWU and its students in a way that cannot be justified. The rights, Charter values and regulatory objectives were not reasonably balanced within a margin of appreciation. (word added)

it will surprise no-one who has read my previous paper on the issues that I agree entirely with the Judge’s decision. If I can say so with due respect, the decision is remarkable for both its learning, its clarity and the breadth of the issues covered, while remaining clearly focussed on the relevant issues. I recommend anyone interested in the balancing of religious freedom with anti-discrimination rights to read it carefully.

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