Everyday Theology: Law societies regulate conduct, not belief

"...TWU has the right to uphold a particular view of marriage..."

At a special meeting of the members of the Law Society of British Columbia, 3,210 lawyers voted against approval for a Faculty of Law at Trinity Western University, while 968 lawyers voted for its approval. While the vote seems to indicate overwhelming opposition, the majority of the 13,114 members of the Law Society did not cast a ballot.

The special meeting was called because a requisite number of lawyers were dissatisfied with the April 11, 2014 decision of the Benchers to approve the faculty of law at TWU for the purposes of the Law Society’s admissions program. I watched the Benchers’ debate live, and in my view, the Benchers arrived at a principled decision regarding a contentious issue involving the conflicting Charter rights of two groups.

The opposition to TWU arises from a clause in the university’s “Community Covenant” which upholds a traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman. Many people object to this clause as discriminatory against LGBTQ persons.

While I dislike the idea of a university requiring its members to sign a covenant that governs the most intimate aspects of their lives, TWU has the right to uphold a particular view of marriage, and those who share the institution’s beliefs have the right to congregate and associate with others of like mind.

I share the opinion of the BC Civil Liberties Association, an organization that supports the rights of LGBTQ persons but who took the position, “to deny (TWU’s) application based on the university’s Community Covenant would infringe the Charter-protected freedom of association and religion of members of the faith-based private university”.  These are fundamental freedoms and “that’s what s. 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is all about, protecting our freedoms of association, of assembly, of belief and of expression.”

In 2001, in Trinity Western University, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the BC College of Teachers could not deny TWU education graduates admittance to the teaching profession based on religious beliefs about homosexuality that were unacceptable to the College.

There is no evidence that teachers trained at TWU fail to professionally exercise their teaching responsibilities in BC’s public schools. Similarly, there is no reason to assume that future graduates of a law school at TWU will be incapable of upholding the laws of the land and representing the rights of clients of all persuasions.   If an individual lawyer should prove incapable of doing so, the public can reasonably expect that the Law Society will deal with that person according to its remedial and disciplinary procedures already in place.

In my opinion, for a law society to deny candidates admission to the legal profession because of a religious belief that is socially anathema to a percentage of its existing membership is unjustified, and is discriminatory in its own way.  In the absence of evidentiary proof that TWU’s traditional view of marriage and its code of sexual conduct does harm to others, graduates of its law school should be eligible for admission to the BC bar.

The Law Society of BC is properly concerned with the training, qualification, ethics, competency and conduct of its members. It is not its task, however, to attempt to regulate belief by excluding those with whom it disagrees.

Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com