Last month, TWU spent two days battling the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society in court. It had voted in April to ban Trinity Western students from its bar admission program unless the university dropped or changed its controversial covenant. The covenant asks students to refrain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman,” a stipulation critics argue is discriminatory against LGBTQ individuals.
The university took the society to court, arguing the ban amounts to religious discrimination.
The decision by Justice Jamie Campbell said the NSBS Society did not have the power to deny TWU’s law graduates accreditation.
The NSBS will be reviewing the decision and would not comment further on it Wednesday afternoon.
A statement from society President Tilly Pillay noted: “We appreciate that Justice Campbell dealt with this matter very quickly and comprehensively. We are analyzing the decision and will review it with our legal counsel before we can determine what the next steps might be. There is much to consider.”
“We believe this is an exceptionally important decision from Justice Campbell,” said TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold. “It affirms that protection of religious freedom is and must continue to be central value in Canada’s pluralist society.”
The logic behind the decision is based on authority and perspective. According to the court transcripts the decision is not about the LGBT equality rights verses religious freedoms of the Christian-based university. Rather, the central issue was whether the NSBS had the authority to do what it did.
Th court ruled the society does not have the legal right to enforce policy change requirements from law school and universities. The secondary issue that the judge pointed out, did have to do with religious freedom and liberty of conscience.
Cambell said that even if the NSBS had the authority to not grant accreditation to graduates, it did not reasonably consider the concerns for religious freedom of expression.
“What one person sees as having the strength of moral convictions is just sanctimonious intolerance to another. As with a lot of things, it depends on perspective. Orthodoxies, secular or religious, can provide the comfort of certainty,” says the ruling.
He went on to note: "The discomforting truth is that religions with views that many Canadians find incomprehensible or offensive abound in a liberal and multicultural society. The law protects them and must carve out a place not only where they can exist but flourish."
Saffold said the decision was important not only to TWU “but also, we believe it sets an extremely valuable precedent in protection of freedoms for all religious communities and people of faith in Canada."
Trinity Western’s application to open a law school has already been approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, as well as the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Yukon.
A similar case is ongoing in Ontario, where the Law Society of Upper Canada voted 28-21 last April to reject TWU’s law school bid. Originally scheduled to be heard this month, the case will now begin June 1. And in mid-December, TWU launched a lawsuit against the Law Society of British Columbia, which voted to deny accreditation after initially approving it.
Update: 9:20 pm: Clarification of statement from Nova Scotia Barristers' Society and comments from Trinity Western University added.