Even atheists should condemn TWU decision by law society and court

Law Society of Upper Canada is engaged in blatant religious discrimination

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BELLEVILLE, ON Jul 13, 2015/ Troy Media/ – I’m a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, but I’m so disgusted by its recent actions that I wish I could quit in protest.

The Law Society made a deliberate decision in 2014 to violate the religious freedom of Trinity Western University (TWU) and any students who wish to study law there. It refused to accredit TWU’s proposed law school so that its graduates could practice law in Ontario.

TWU and one of its students went to court hoping to have their constitutional right to religious freedom upheld. On July 2, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice announced its decision: it would allow the Law Society to get away with violating the Charter rights of TWU.

TWU is a Christian university. It requires its students to sign a “community covenant” in which they promise to conduct themselves according to Christian moral principles: no drunkenness, no swearing, and no sex outside of traditional marriage, among other things.

I couldn’t sign the covenant myself for several reasons. First, I’m an atheist. Second, I live in a common-law relationship with a man and have no intention of getting married. Third, I swear occasionally (for instance, when I read the court’s decision). But the mere fact that I wouldn’t qualify to be a TWU student doesn’t make me want to prevent others from going there or from practicing law in Ontario.

The big hullabaloo arises because (like me) gays can’t attend TWU’s law school either, unless they agree not to engage in gay sex throughout their tenure there. The Law Society decided that because TWU effectively excludes sexually active gays, it shouldn’t be accredited.

Nobody has ever demonstrated that graduates of TWU law school would discriminate against gay clients. Ontario’s Human Rights Code would prevent that anyhow. Nor has it been suggested that TWU grads wouldn’t be competent lawyers. Indeed, TWU has a reputation for high academic standards.

With glaring illogic, the court in its TWU decision said that being ineligible for a position at TWU law school would make it more difficult for gay students to gain access to the legal profession. There are 9,000 applicants annually for only 2,782 spots at Canadian law schools. But if TWU opens up (for example) 150 more places, then even if those places get filled by non-gays, it still means that there will be less competition for the other 2,782 spots. Now only 8,850 people will be competing for those spots, so the odds of getting accepted are better. The accreditation of TWU law school would therefore make it more likely, rather than less, that gay candidates in the pool of 9,000 will get accepted.

The Law Society, in its TWU decision, has engaged in blatant religious discrimination purportedly to prevent future discrimination by TWU grads based on sexual orientation. But the latter is only a fear that may never come to pass, and that could be independently remedied if it did. The former is real, it’s now, and has received court approval.

This issue has split the legal community across Canada, but the Law Society never polled its 47,000 members to see what we think. The vote among the Society’s own directors (called benchers) was only 56 per cent against accreditation. But the benchers themselves were elected with a voter turnout of only 37 per cent. So it’s possible that as few as 21 per cent of Law Society members approve of what our organization has done.

But we can’t quit in protest, because if we did we couldn’t practice law. Adding insult to injury, we lawyers are compelled by law to pay for the “service” of being governed by people who may force profoundly antithetical views upon us. This is just more evidence that the Law Society has far too much power to censor not only religious freedom among students at a B.C. university, but free thought among Law Society members.

Karen Selick is the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

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