Trinity Western University is a private Christian school in British Columbia and they have been trying to open up their own law school. Last Monday, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada decided to give them “preliminary approval.” They’re well on their way to becoming fully accredited.
That by itself shouldn’t be a big deal. In the United States, we’re used to Christian law schools (like Pat Robertson‘s Regent University School of Law and Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty University School of Law).
But here’s the big controversy (one that we’ve just grown accustomed to in the U.S.): Trinity Western doesn’t want to accept any gay or lesbian students who refuse to remain celibate:
[Critics] argue that a covenant requiring all students, staff and faculty at Trinity Western to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” is discriminatory. A footnote to the provision cites a biblical passage condemning homosexuality.
Trinity Western has argued that students choose to adhere when they apply, and president Bob Kuhn hopes to “move on from that debate.”
But Clayton Ruby, a prominent Toronto criminal and civil-rights lawyer, said if B.C. allows the law school, “there will be a lawsuit” launched primarily on Charter grounds. Mr. Ruby has been among the proposal’s most outspoken opponents, and on Monday, he called the Federation’s decision “cowardly nonsense” because “it punts the issue” to B.C.’s government.
“It’s a simple act of discrimination against gays and lesbians. To the extent that this school has law students, the door is closed to gay and lesbian lawyers and judges, and that is demeaning not only to them, but to all of us,” he said.
Law professor Dyanoosh Youssefi, writing for the Huffington Post, explains that the biggest problem here is that law school is supposed to be a place where you learn about justice and fairness and equality, yet Trinity wants to write discrimination right into their charter:
Law students and lawyers are the very people who have fought (alongside activists and claimants) to ensure that people are not discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, and that sexual equality extends to people of varying sexual orientations.
So how can it be that a law school, the very place that should be the safest bastion for studying and promoting equality, so blatantly violates this fundamental right?
A law school that bans homosexual behaviour is the antithesis of all that is taught within its walls. A law school that violates one of the fundamental rights in our democracy makes a mockery of those rights.
She makes a perfectly good point. (Though her article wrongly states that gay students would not be admitted to the school. Gay and lesbian students are welcome at the school as long as they don’t *act* on their homosexuality. A fine point, but an important one for the sake of accuracy.)
But here’s why I’m not as concerned as she appears to be: Once they graduate from law school, they still have to play by the same rules as everybody else. In Canada, the law supports gay relationships even if it’s forbidden within the Christian Bubble. It doesn’t matter what the honor code is at the school because those rules don’t apply in the real world. Graduates of the law school won’t be able to use the Bible to support their positions in court when they’re representing clients.
Is the gay-ban at the school discriminatory? Absolutely… if you’re someone who cares about human beings over what the Bible might say about some of them. But they’re conservative Christians; you don’t expect them to do the kind, decent thing. Bad ideas are built right into their beliefs. But if the school wants to single out gay students in a way they wouldn’t target their straight students, that’s unfortunately their right. The graduates will still have to pass the same bar exams for their province as students from public law schools.
That’s why I don’t put a lot of stock in this attempt to raise funds for a legal challenge against the school. The school should be accredited (or not) based on how well and accurately it teaches the law, not on its faith-based admission policies.
When it comes down to it, they have a right to run a law school as they wish and I don’t see how a challenge on grounds of discrimination will hold any water. Once they graduate, it won’t matter anyway. The law won’t allow for that kind of discrimination in the public sphere, even if some critics are concerned that the school will create “anti-gay lawyers.” Really? I find it hard to believe someone who’s already tolerant will turn anti-gay at the school. More likely, the students who enter the school thinking homosexuality is wrong will feel the same way once they leave it.
If I were a student, I just wouldn’t apply there. I could do better than that place. I would want to go to a school where I’m surrounded by students and faculty who accept and welcome diversity, not those who find something inherently wrong with it.
And if I were an employer, I would think twice before ever hiring someone from a school that embraced bigotry.
By all means, let’s keep pointing out what awful human beings these administrators at Trinity Western are for pushing this policy. Let’s keep pointing out that a school of law has policies in place that would never be acceptable outside of it. But let’s not act like they don’t have a right to be bigoted Christians. They do, even at a law school.
(Thanks to Kevin for the link)