In overwhelmingly secular Canada, courts are firmly defending the religious freedom of institutions that seek to practice their faith without facing official discrimination.
British Columbia’s highest court unanimously upheld a ruling that prevented an accrediting body from yanking the accreditation of a Christian university because it requires students to “sign a Community Covenant which does not recognize same-sex marriage.”
The Law Society of British Columbia, which accredits the province’s law schools, had initially approved Trinity Western University’s law school, but yanked the accreditation after holding a referendum on the decision among its members.
The confusingly named Supreme Court of British Columbia earlier ruled that the law society violated TWU’s Charter rights to freedom of religion, and the law society appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
It backfired. As the Court of Appeal wrote Tuesday in its “Conclusion on ‘Charter’ Balancing”:
The TWU community has a right to hold and act on its beliefs, absent evidence of actual harm. To do so is an expression of its right to freedom of religion. The Law Society’s decision not to approve TWU’s faculty of law denies these evangelical Christians the ability to exercise fundamental religious and associative rights which would otherwise be assured to them under s. 2 of the Charter.
In light of the severe impact of non-approval on the religious freedom rights at stake and the minimal impact of approval on the access of LGBTQ persons to law school and the legal profession … we conclude that a decision to declare TWU not to be an approved law faculty would be unreasonable.
In our view … there can be only one answer to the question: the adoption of a resolution not to approve TWU’s faculty of law would limit the engaged rights to freedom of religion in a significantly disproportionate way — significantly more than is reasonably necessary to meet the Law Society’s public interest objectives.
A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society — one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.
According to ADF International, which is “allied” with one of the lawyers in the case and affiliated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, British Columbia is “free immediately to license” TWU’s law school.
It said that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon and Nova Scotia have agreed to recognize law grads from TWU, but the university is still appealing a loss in Ontario.