Canadian court delivers win for Christian law school
Canada | Nova Scotia appeals court declares Barrister’s Society cannot deny recognition to Trinity Western students
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 7/28/16, 02:12 pm
A Canadian appeals court this week ruled the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society (NSBS) does not have the authority to deny future Christian law school graduates accreditation based on the institution’s marriage beliefs.
“Everyone, religious or not, should celebrate this decision, which amounts to a protection of our freedom and our identity,” said Trinity Western University (TWU) spokeswoman Amy Robertson. “Freedom of conscience and religion is the first fundamental freedom upheld in the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms].”
TWU filed suit against the Barrister’s Society in October 2014 after the organization said it would not recognize graduates of a proposed Christian law school because TWU’s community covenant prohibits sexual intimacy outside of marriage between a man and a woman. The appeals court decision upholds a January trial court ruling that found the Barrister’s Society overstepped its authority.
“Allowing the NSBS’s decision to stand would have a chilling effect on the liberty of conscience and freedom of religion,” Justice Jamie Campbell wrote in his trial court opinion.
Nova Scotia joins several other provincial law societies that will abide by the Federal Law Society of Canada’s 2013 decision to recognize the school and its future graduates. But TWU still has an appeal pending in its home province, British Columbia, where the law society has said it will not recognize graduates.
Religious liberty groups, including Alliance Defending Freedom and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, hailed this week’s decision as a victory for religious communities.
“Christian universities and schools should be free to operate according to the very faith they teach and believe,” said Gerald Chipeur, a Canadian attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “The court accurately affirmed that the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society has improperly denied accreditation by attempting to regulate outside of its jurisdiction—and did so simply because the law school and its students adhere to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
TWU, a private liberal arts university with about 4,000 students, is attempting to start Canada’s first Christian law school. The university requires all students, faculty, and staff to sign its community covenant, a shared commitment to live by Christian standards that includes scriptural references for each admonition. “The community covenant is a core part of defining the TWU community as distinctly Christian,” Robertson said in a statement. “We are not making a statement about LGBTQ people; we are making a statement about traditional Christian marriage, which is sacred to us.”
In the 1990s, the British Columbia College of Teachers cited the community covenant as cause to withhold accreditation for a new TWU teacher’s education program. In 2001, an 8-to-1 majority of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the British Columbia College of Teachers could not deny accreditation to TWU graduates.