The Supreme Court of Canada ruling about the proposed law school at Trinity Western University means bar associations, the bodies that regulate the legal profession, can refuse to accredit graduates from a school that does not approve of same-sex relationships.
It also means Canadian lawmakers have taken a different approach to the issue than their counterparts in the U.S.
The Canadian high court held that the Law Society of B.C. was within its rights to deny accreditation to graduates of the yet-to-open TWU law school because of the university policy that requires staff and students to follow a prohibition against same-sex relationships.
The judges in Ottawa chose a different path than American lawmakers, where freedom-of-religion laws have been broadly interpreted, sometimes at the expense of LGBTQ people.
Much of that stems from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 that bans “substantially burdening” the exercise of religion in the U.S.
The Act has been the foundation for successful court cases that, among other things, have allowed some businesses to decide for religious reasons not to include contraception coverage in their health insurance plans and permitted a Colorado baker to legally refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same sex-couple because of a religious objection.
Some critics of the Canadian decision, such as Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies President Charles McVety, sound like they prefer the broader American interpretation of religious freedom.
“Our forefathers fought and died for our freedom and we will not yield hard fought freedoms to nine un-elected, unaccountable judges,” McVety said.
He went on to complain that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling means LGBTQ rights trump “sincerely held religious beliefs” entirely.
The high court ruling said that the opposite, allowing religious rights to trump LGBTQ rights, was not acceptable.
“Being required by someone else’s religious beliefs to behave contrary to one’s sexual identity is degrading and disrespectful,” the judgment stated.
“Being required to do so offends the public perception that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion.’
The verdict against the proposed faith-based law school in Canada also differs from the U.S. experience where hundreds of lawyers graduate every year from dozens of Christian universities down south, bearing degrees that are recognized by U.S. bar associations.
And several of those law schools are in universities with policies that, like TWU, oppose relationships outside of marriage between a man and woman.