Friday, June 15, 2018 was a black day for human rights in Canada. On that day, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that provincial law societies can refuse to accredit graduates of a law school proposed by Trinity Western University, an evangelical Christian university. In practice, it means that TWU will not be allowed to train lawyers. The reasoning behind the Supreme Court decision is that TWU’s community covenant forbids students to engage in sex outside of heterosexual marriage. The Supreme Court ruled that this discriminates against LGBTQ students since their sexual orientation is intrinsic to who they are, their essential identity.
It is worth noting that earlier Supreme Court decisions allowed TWU to train nurses and teachers. It is open to question whether the Supreme Court will now overturn its earlier decisions in those cases. It is also open to question whether other organizations and institutions will refuse to recognize degrees and certificates granted by any Christian school with a covenant similar to Trinity Western’s. Supreme Court decisions set a precedent.
The effect of the Supreme Court ruling is that in future in Canada LGBTQ rights will always trump religious rights. (I refer to them as LGBTQ rights because gender rights in general were never in question in the court case.) Furthermore, it is likely that evangelical Christians will be on the losing side of a number of other legal and constitutional issues. Why is this so? Because of the long-term effects of the decision. Several decades from now, an evangelical Christian institution such as TWU will likely not even be able to defend its case in court. Why? Because TWU will not be able to find a lawyer to take its case. From now on, all lawyers (and hence all judges) will be trained to value LGBTQ rights over religious rights.
The law societies argue that TWU discriminates while mainstream law schools treat everyone equally. But this is not true. Would a mainstream law school hire a professor who argued for TWU’s position in the recent court case? It is highly unlikely, particularly given the Supreme Court decision. Would a mainstream law school hire an evangelical Christian professor? It is highly unlikely—unless he agreed to change his beliefs. Would a mainstream law school accept a student who did his or her undergraduate work at a Christian university such as TWU? It has happened in the past but is far less likely now. Going further, would a mainstream law school accept an evangelical Christian as a student? Possibly, especially if it was not evident that the student was an evangelical Christian. Law schools are unlikely to establish rules and policies specifically banning evangelical Christian students. On the other hand, admissions are decided in secret, and that means that discrimination can be practiced with virtual impunity. And if an evangelical Christian student were accepted, would that student be allowed to present a paper arguing in favour of religious rights over LGBTQ rights and get a passing grade? Would that student be allowed to graduate?
From my perspective, it appears that mainstream law schools generally have an unwritten value system every bit as rigid as TWU’s written one. I suspect that this anti-Christian bias in mainstream law schools was one of the reasons TWU decided it needed to start a law school in the first place. LGBTQ students have many other law schools to choose from, other than TWU’s. Evangelical Christian students likely do not.
If it is argued that mainstream law schools would not discriminate in this way, consider that it is graduates of these law schools who make up the membership of the law societies and that it was these societies that voted to exclude TWU graduates from membership.
The law schools will likely argue that lawyers should be expected to “respect human rights” by accepting and abiding by recent decisions of the Supreme Court, but this argument is spurious. The Supreme Court has reversed many decisions made by earlier versions of the Supreme Court. This means that many law school graduates have felt free to disagree with Supreme Court decisions. It is necessary in a free society for people to be able to question the status quo.
To fully understand the far-reaching implications of the Supreme Court decision, consider that the Supreme Court decision was decided by a 7 to 2 vote. This means that two people who are currently Supreme Court justices in future would likely not be allowed to become lawyers.
The long-term effect of the Supreme Court decision is that evangelical Christians, who make up over 10 percent of the Canadian population, will effectively be denied legal representation. The courts will now be prejudiced against them, in the literal sense of the term. That is, the cases will already be prejudged, the decisions already made. One side in any dispute between religious rights and LGBTQ rights (and one side in a number of other disputes) will always win because only that side will allowed to be lawyers and hence judges. Controlling who makes decisions determines the decisions themselves. And this is why the LGBTQ community pushed so hard to prevent Trinity Western from being allowed to start a law school.
The situation will be as dire for evangelical Christians in Canada as it is for Christians in many Muslim countries, where virtually all of the lawyers and judges are Muslim and where crimes against Christians frequently go unpunished.
Of course, it is possible that Trinity Western University could get approval of its law school if it discarded its community covenant or amended it to satisfy the recent Supreme Court decision. This would be fine with the Supreme Court since it apparently believes that sexuality and sexual practice are intrinsic to who people are while religion and religious practice are not and can easily be discarded. But for Trinity Western to follow that route would be troubling from a human rights point of view. It would mean that the Supreme Court would be deciding which religious beliefs and practices are acceptable and which are not. When a court starts deciding which beliefs and ideas are permissible, then it threatens the human rights, not just of evangelical Christians, but of everyone and anyone.