VANCOUVER, British Columbia – British Columbia’s highest court issued a unanimous decision Tuesday that strongly affirmed the religious freedom of a Christian law school refused accreditation simply for operating in accordance with its Christian beliefs.
In its decision, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that reversed the Law Society of British Columbia’s denial of accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. As the Court of Appeal explained, “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.”
“Faith-based educational institutions should always be welcome in a diverse society and be free to operate according to the faith they teach and espouse,” said Gerald Chipeur, Q.C., of the Canadian firm Miller Thompson, LLP, which represented the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada. The court allowed the church to intervene in the case because it operates Burman University in Lacombe, Alberta, and therefore had an interest in the outcome.
“All Canadians benefit from this decision,” Chipeur added. “It affirms the principle that everyone should be free to live and work according to their sincerely held beliefs and convictions.”
LSBC originally voted to accept graduates of the school but changed its decision in October 2014 because of the university’s biblical beliefs on appropriate sexual behaviour. TWU went to court in August 2015 to challenge the denial in Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia. The province’s Supreme Court then ruled that the Law Society’s first decision, which approved the academic qualifications of TWU graduates, should be restored. With Tuesday’s decision, British Columbia is free immediately to license Trinity Western’s law school. Nova Scotia’s highest court similarly upheld the school’s constitutionally protected freedoms in July.
“The Law Society had an obligation to fully consider the religious freedom guaranteed to the law school under the Canadian Charter of Rights, but it did not,” explained Chipeur, who is one of nearly 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF International.
“No one can be banned from their profession because they hold biblically based views, and no Christian institution of higher education can be sanctioned because it reflects essential tenets of the Christian religion,” added ADF International Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull.
Affirming the British Columbia Supreme Court’s decision from last year, the Court of Appeal affirmed that the approval of a law school graduate must be based on the law and evidence, not on personal opinions and feelings. Consistent with this line of argument, attorneys allied with ADF International have fought for the institution’s accreditation in several Canadian provinces.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon, and now Nova Scotia have already agreed to recognize TWU’s law graduates. TWU has appealed an adverse court decision in Ontario.
Founded in 1962, TWU operates professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. The law school will focus on charity, small-business, and entrepreneurial law.