Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Recalibrating Canada’s scales of justice

First Amendment | Religious liberty experts warn last week’s ruling against a Christian law school will have wide-ranging effects
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 6/19/18, 02:21 pm

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday that a law association acted “reasonably” when it declined to accredit a proposed Christian law school because of its Biblically based conduct code. The 7-2 majority on the court ruled that Trinity Western University’s requirement that all students and faculty commit to Biblical sexual ethics in singleness and marriage discriminates against prospective LGBT students, reducing the “diversity” of the legal profession.

But dissenting Justices Suzanne Côté and Russell Brown said the Law Society of Upper Canada, which accredits Ontario’s law schools and certifies their graduates, acted outside the purview of its mandate in its effort to create and maintain a “diverse” pool of attorneys.

“The decision not to accredit TWU’s proposed law school is a profound interference with the TWU community’s freedom of religion,” Côté and Brown wrote. “It interferes with that community’s expression of religious belief through the practice of creating and adhering to a Biblically grounded covenant.”

The majority opinion recognized the law society’s decision conflicted with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom but said the suppression of religious liberty “is of minor significance” compared to the public benefit of ensuring “equal access to and diversity in the legal profession.”

The proposed law school would have been another extension of Trinity Western University’s graduate program. The university, located in Langley, British Columbia, earned approval from six of Canada’s eight provincial law societies but postponed opening until its students could be recognized nationwide. The court heard arguments last year in two cases involving the dissenting provinces, British Columbia and Ontario, the country’s most populous.

The Canadian high court’s decision puts into stark relief the religious liberty protections provided by the U.S. Constitution, compared to the Canadian Charter, enacted in 1982. While America’s founding document provides a standard by which all other laws are measured, Canada’s Charter provides a “framework” for legislation but does not supersede it, said Brett Harvey, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Without a superseding law, a court can decide for itself whose rights take precedence. The decision against TWU implies the school’s moral code is tantamount to an “impermissible bias” that cannot stand, a stance that has much broader implications, Harvey said.

“Why does the logic of the Supreme Court of Canada stop at lawyers? What if they produce an ideological litmus test for counselors, or teachers, or doctors, or anyone they license?” Harvey asked. “They’ve given themselves authority to purge professions of people who don’t think the way the government wants them to think about matters that are completely unrelated to their profession.”

This isn’t the first time secular agencies have tried to undermine the university because of its Christian values. But the last time the school had to defend its rights, the Canadian Supreme Court still believed religious liberty trumped unsubstantiated charges of discrimination. When the British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT) refused in 2001 to accredit TWU’s new teachers college because of its “discriminatory” conduct code, the high court ruled 8-1 in the school’s favor.

The Supreme Court said “it was not within the BCCT’s jurisdiction to consider whether the program follows discriminatory practices. There was no reasonable foundation to support the BCCT’s decision with regard to discrimination.”

Seventeen years later, the same court reversed its position. While studying law “in a Christian environment in which people follow certain religious rules of conduct” may be preferred, it is not “necessary” for TWU’s prospective students, the court ruled.

Cultural forces in the United States pushing similarly to prevent people from acting on their faith in the public square have had some success. Recent decisions redefining terms in order to craft rulings favorable to homosexuals and transgender persons are “disconcerting,” Harvey said. But he remains optimistic America will not follow Canada’s lead.

“The Constitution still says what it said in 1789,” Harvey noted. “The First Amendment still reads the exact same way.”

Florida therapists sue to end ‘stay gay’ laws

Floridians should be able to obtain counseling for any reason, including distress over sexual orientation and gender identity, according to two Florida therapists suing the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County for outlawing so-called “conversion therapy” for minors.

The bans enacted last fall impose fines up to $500 a day for providing “any counseling, practice, or treatment” with the goal of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or behaviors associated with those identities, according to the ordinances. The county law forces all cities and unincorporated areas within its borders to adopt the ban unless they have laws in place supporting the therapy.

In the complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida, the therapists contend the bans violate free speech laws and prevent prospective clients from acting upon their religious convictions by seeking counseling for unwanted sexual feelings. The bans also circumvent state licensing procedures, according to a statement by the Christian legal aid group Liberty Counsel, which is representing the therapists. —B.P.

Creative Commons/Andrew Horne Creative Commons/Andrew Horne Students at the University of Michigan

University backtracks on speech code

The University of Michigan tried to deflect a free speech lawsuit by clarifying definitions and bias reporting procedures that prompted the grievance and drew the unwelcome attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.

But that did not resolve the problem, said Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, the student rights organization that filed the complaint in May.

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to the university’s speech code policies, particularly the Bias Response Team, which “chills” speech on campus, Speech First claims. DOJ officials called the school’s Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities “unconstitutional because it offers no clear, objective definitions of the violations.” This marks the fourth time since September the agency has interjected itself into a campus free speech challenge.

University of Michigan officials say Speech First and the DOJ mischaracterize the school’s policy. —B.P.

More colleges freed from Obamacare mandate

Two more Christian colleges won their religious liberty battle against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. The U.S. District Court of Northern Iowa ruled June 12 that Dordt College and Cornerstone University demonstrated they would prevail in their lawsuit and issued a permanent injunction against applying the mandate to the schools.

Nonprofit organizations began winning their cases against the mandate under the Trump administration, which refused to defend the policy. If you’re keeping score in the long-running religious liberty fight, it’s not even close. As of June 8, nonprofit schools and organizations have 81 favorable rulings, while the government has three. —B.P.

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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Tue, 06/19/2018 06:15 pm

    In effect, the Candian Supreme Court is discriminating against Christians.  The whole diversity argument is moot given there will be plenty of other law schools producing graduates of various sexual persuasions.  This is more about the Totalitarian-like spirit sweeping the West, rendering logic and reason subservient in surrender.

  • Leeper
    Posted: Wed, 06/20/2018 08:28 am

    I am thankful we have a president that upholds our constitution. Is Hillary was elected I believe we would have lost our religious protection under the constitution by selection of liberal supreme court justices.

  • JennyBeth
    Posted: Thu, 06/21/2018 04:42 pm

    The FL law should render most modern sex education illegal, considering it's designed to make young people entertain notions that they might be LGBTQ and thus more likely to conclude that they are.

    On a related note, I'd like to see a judge's face if a therapist on trial were to say, "But I did nothing to try to change their identity. I just helped them to understand that their identity has nothing to do with their sexual desires." Not that such a defense would be allowed to fly, but it's funny to watch such a simple concept blow people's minds.