Last week, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against Christian university, Trinity Western School in a ruling that many Christians are calling a watershed moment for religious liberties in Canada.
Though we at Faith Beyond Belief grieve for this decision, we want to encourage you, our friends and family as we face such a heart-breaking decision. We want to share with you three ideas:
1. How we understand this ruling.
2. What it means for us at Faith Beyond Belief.
3. How Faith Beyond Belief intends to respond to it.
First, these are the facts of the case, as we understand it: Trinity, which is based in Langley, BC, wanted to open a law school. Students at Trinity have to commit to a “community covenant” which includes, among other things, a commitment that they will restrict sexual activity to within marriage between a man and a woman. The Law Society of Ontario and the Law Society of British Columbia refused to accredit the law school (and thus their graduates to practice in their provinces) because of the “discriminatory” community covenant. As these two provinces are the two largest markets for law graduates, Trinity was not willing to proceed with the law school without the ability of their graduates to practice in these two provinces.
In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law societies in BC and Ontario could deny accreditation to Trinity’s law school. In a nut shell, when religious beliefs injure someone else by requiring that person to behave “contrary to one’s sexual identity” in order to obtain a legal education, religious beliefs lose the contest.
The Court handed down two rulings, one for each province. In their BC ruling, they argued, ...it is clear that the decision not to approve TWU’s proposed law school significantly advanced the LSBC’s (Law Society of BC) statutory objectives by maintaining equal access to and diversity in the legal profession and by preventing the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people. The public confidence in the administration of justice could be undermined by the LSBC’s decision to approve a law school that forces some to deny a crucial component of their identity in the most private and personal of spaces for three years in order to receive a legal education.
In both the Ontario and BC decisions, the Court said their rulings only resulted in a minor restriction of religious liberties since the school didn’t require that only Christians attend the school. Neither, the court argued, is signing a covenant an essential element to the Christian faith.
Secondly, though I’m not a lawyer, many of our legal friends have weighed in to discuss the implications of this case to religious liberty. Our lawyer friends at the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) wrote,
But of course the fear of many believers is that those who uphold a biblical view of sexuality can no longer participate in the public arena. If Trinity can no longer get government accreditation for their law program, why not other programs they offer such as their teaching program or medical programs? And why stop at Trinity? The fear is that any Christian school, organizations like Faith Beyond Belief or even a church that has a code of conduct or statement of faith that limits sexual activity to heterosexual marriage, could be sued to either force them to compromise their faith or lose their charitable status or even close down. I know the Christian schools in Alberta are very worried about the repercussions of this decision on their own court case against government-mandated sexuality clubs.
Worse, if Christian organizations can be targeted for their beliefs, why not individuals? If the public perception is that a lawyer who graduates from a Christian law program cannot be impartial and serve her gay client, then why not a Christian lawyer who didn’t graduate from a Christian school? If it’s the Christians beliefs that are inherently problematic, why does it matter where the Christian lawyer graduated? This is already a concern in that the Law Society of Ontario is now requiring Ontario lawyers to attest to their commitment to equality when they renew their annual practice license.
And that leads to our response at Faith Beyond Belief. From what we’ve read and heard, this ruling has very serious implications for religious liberties not just for Christians, but for anyone with any kind of moral or religious convictions. If believing that others’ behavior or practices are wrong constitutes potential prejudice against that group, then civil discussion and society is limited by the most sensitive person in the room. Furthermore, since Jesus Himself warned us that our faith is offensive to others for what it teaches, it seems only a matter of time before Christ’s teachings can be openly censored for simply claiming to be right.
But one thing caught my attention when I read Trinity Western’s press release in response to this ruling. They were wanting to graduate lawyers who specialized in charity law since Canada has the second-largest non-profit and charity sector in the world. In other words, the court decision prevents them from serving Canadians, particularly those underprivileged groups who can’t afford lawyers.
This reminded me that as damaging as this ruling is for Christians, this is not about us. Instead of focusing on our lost rights, we must grieve about how this limits our chance to serve hurting people. When governments restrict us from praying in front of abortion clinics, or running our own high schools or going into law, what they are actually doing is preventing us from bringing the hope of the gospel into civil society. A society with no Christian lawyers or teachers or schools is not a neutral one but a damaged one.
Though this decision may be discouraging, we can’t forget that Jesus already promised this would happen to us and modelled how to react to this kind of rejection: by loving and serving the very people who rejected Him, even to the point of death. He offered hope found in an eternal friendship with Him if we would only repent. In so doing, many were transformed by the example of His great love. The ruling then, should also encourage us because it provides us the opportunity to model Jesus sacrificial service for Canadians. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
~ Ephesians 1: 18-23
At Faith Beyond Belief, we are committed to praying for our nation and continuing to serve it as Christ’s ambassadors. We commit to stand firm on God’s word, without compromise, because only through it can Canadians find hope and reconciliation with our Maker. As our rights are taken away, we need to rely on what historian Larry Hurtado argues were the only tools the first-century church had: the love modelled by Christ and reliability of the eyewitnesses. The church grew not because of social media campaigns or law schools but because, in their everyday conversations, they talked about the truth of the gospel and in their everyday life, modelled its grace.
As you consider the implications of this decision, would you also consider how you can partner with us as we equip Christians to use these two tools? With this court ruling and its subsequent ramifications, the work we do to equip Christians to be effective in everyday conversations on issues like sexuality, is even more necessary. Your support allows us to help more believers find the confidence to share the hope that we have with gentleness and respect.
 For more on these arguments, listen to our newest podcast: https://www.faithbeyondbelief.ca/podcast/2018/6/14/engaging-our-culture-in-everyday-conversations