Trinity Western University continues to defend anti-gay community covenant

Are the anti-gay policies and practices of TWU contingent or necessary features of their community?

When the Law Society of BC initially granted accreditation to Trinity Western University in 2014 I was angry. It was a temporary decision and they would quickly reverse it, which was good. But it seemed to me that there were two parts to their initial wrong decision.

The first part was a significant ignorance of the depth of oppression that the LGTBQ community has experienced, and continues to experience. This came up in the deliberation amongst a majority straight board.

The second part was a significant latitude given to Christianity. The reasons for this are legion. We live in a dominantly Christian country, with a necessarily Christian monarch, which has a perfect record of Christian prime ministers and Christian Governor Generals. During the last federal election, the leader of every major part was a member of an anti-gay church. There are still jurisdictions in Canada that pay public money to the Catholic Church to teach children despite the fact that they are formally anti-gay. And many kinds of religious freedom are legally protected.

The Supreme Court of Canada, happily, was not moved by Trinity Western University’s claims that they weren’t hurting gay folks. And the Supreme Court was not moved by the claims by TWU that they were free to do as they pleased on the basis of their Christianity.

The resulting idea is that law societies, and perhaps other public bodies, retain their freedom to refuse accreditation to school’s that have sufficiently anti-gay policies.

The majority of the Court held that the mandatory nature of TWU’s Community Covenant, which prohibits sexual conduct that “violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” on pain of suspension or expulsion, created a risk of significant harm to LGBTQ persons. Although TWU’s religious freedom was engaged by the Law Societies’ decisions, the importance of ensuring that LGBTQ students have the same options for law school, and the importance of promoting diversity in the legal profession, meant that the Law Societies were entitled to refuse accreditation to TWU’s discriminatory law school. – Frances D. Mahon

Trinity Western University’s “community covenant” is sufficiently anti-gay to warrant refusal of accreditation.1

This is great. So I wonder what TWU will do?

Are the anti-gay religious beliefs, polices and practices, contingent or necessary features of TWU?

News headlines last week read, “Trinity Western loses fight for Christian law school.” The CBC ran with this, as did CTV. I was very critical of these headlines because I think it’s unfair to Christians that aren’t homophobic. It’s trolling Christians. It’s clickbait for people who think the school is being rejected because it’s Christian. It’s not. It’s being rejected because it’s anti-gay. The National Post also fanned these flames with factually incorrect headlines.

The National Post writes an inflammatory headline: The Supreme Court decides that faith is now banned from Canada's public spaces
The National Post writes an inflammatory and factually incorrect headline: “The Supreme Court decides that faith is now banned from Canada’s public spaces.”

But maybe the newspapers were more right than I initially thought. 2

Catholicism, for example, suffers from some deep anti-gay intellectual and moral baggage. It’s baked into the firmware. And it’s not just Catholicism. Many Christians hold that gay behaviour is a sin.

What about TWU? Are their anti-gay practices contingent? That is, can these practices get removed and can TWU become an LGBTQ-affirming community?

Well. Judging by the press releases by TWU, their anti-gay ideology might be a necessary feature of their community. They don’t appear to be going ahead with their law school, for example. Janet Buckingham, a professor at the university who helped launch the law school told some news outlets, “We will not be starting a law school in the near future, and we will have to consider our options to determine how we’re going to go forward with this”.

Fathom that. Despite the millions of dollars they’ve spent, and the countless human hours, and despite all of their high minded talk about the importance of their law school, they might rather shut it down instead of simply removing their anti-gay policies. And there are other programs on campus that have similarly anti-gay covenants.

Ultimately it will be up to TWU to decide for themselves if they can change and grow, or if their community will remain fundamentally anti-gay.

TWU Law School timeline

2012 The university begins steps toward opening a law school.

2013 TWU follows the provincial approved process for establishing a new post-secondary education program and receives approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education.

2014 BC Ministry of Advanced Education revokes its approval following a reversal of support by the BC Law Society.

2015 BC Supreme Court rules in favour of TWU’s right to open and operate a law school.

2016 BC Court of Appeal upholds TWU’s right to open and operate a law school.

2017 Facing continued opposition from the Law Society of BC and the Law Society of Ontario, the university takes its case to the Supreme Court of Canada in November to seek a resolution.

2018 Supreme Court of Canada delivers its ruling against the university

  1. This is an interesting summary backgrounder from 2015.
  2. Certainly many Christian sects are not anti-gay. Some of the gayest people I know are members of vibrant supportive LGBTQ-affirming Christian communities.