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TWU says religious freedom at stake in law school fight

TWU and religious freedom in Canada from Trinity Western University on Vimeo.

The fight over a planned law school at Trinity Western University in Langley is a battle for religious freedom, university president Bob Kuhn says in a video message to supporters posted on the TWU website.

In the recorded statement, Kuhn says the evangelical Christian university is facing "significant opposition" that seeks to overturn the December approval of the law school by the Federation of Law Societies, the group that represents provincial law societies, and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education.

Kuhn says critics who complain the private university is anti-gay have mounted "a well-orchestrated lobbying campaign" to convince provincial law societies to reject the Trinity Western law school despite approval by the national federation.

"The opposition to Trinity Western’s School of Law is very large and loud, well organized, motivated, and single-minded," says Kuhn, who goes on to say the real issue is one of religious freedom.

"At its root, this national debate is about whether religious institutions and communities will be free to hold and express religious beliefs without being excluded from the public marketplace," Kuhn adds.

"In the end, this is not simply a matter of whether TWU opens a law school; this strikes at the very heart of religious freedom in Canada."

Kuhn urges TWU supporters to "stand with us, to pray with us and support Trinity Western in whatever ways you can."

He also refers to the 2001 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that upheld Trinity's right to require students and staff to sign a Community Covenant that, among other things, requires them to abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

The high court declared that TWU “is a private institution that is exempted, in part, from the B.C. human rights legislation and to which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply” and went on to say that the university can believe what it wants about gay people so long as it doesn’t actually discriminate against them.

"We do not want to spend time, energy and resources in another courtroom battle only to prove that the law still allows these rights," Kuhn says, adding "it is not just a Christian law school that is at stake, the religious freedom of Canadian Christians, as well as followers of other religions, is in peril."

The Kuhn message was posted on Feb. 4, shortly after the faculty council of the law school at the University of B.C. came out against the TWU law school, publicly calling on the Law Society of B.C. to review the approval by the federation, which represents all provincial law societies in Canada.

“We encourage the Law Society to look fully at the conflict between TWU’s Community Covenant Agreement and a lawyer’s obligation of non-discrimination,” professor Margot Young said in a written statement.

“As a result of the Community Covenant Agreement, lawyers employed by TWU as staff or faculty may be forced to choose between enforcing the TWU’s Covenant Agreement and complying with BC’s Code of Professional Conduct, which requires non-discrimination.”

The Code states that a “lawyer must not discriminate against any person.”

Law societies in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, home of the prestigious Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, have announced reviews of the decision by the national federation.

A Canadian Press story about the Nova Scotia law society hearing in Halifax reported a faculty member at Dalhousie appeared at a hearing on the issue to say recognizing law degrees granted by a TWU law school would amount to sanctioning "blatant and explicit discrimination and is not consistent with Charter values."

If the Nova Scotia law society refuses to acknowledge TWU law degrees, graduates from the Langley university would be unable to practice law in that province.

Kuhn spoke to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society in Halifax on Tuesday, saying not recognizing law school graduates from TWU would be "an audacious example of prejudice."

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