“The Supreme Court of Canada told Trinity Western University, which I lead, that it could not open a law school. Accrediting a school that upholds traditional Christian teachings on marriagecould send the wrong message to Canadians who disagree.” Bob Kuhn
Langley, British Columbia
Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, amid many promises that traditional religious believers would be protected. Those promises have proved empty. Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Canada told Trinity Western University, which I lead, that it could not open a law school. Accrediting a school that upholds traditional Christian teachings on marriage could send the wrong message to Canadians who disagree with Trinity’s beliefs, we were told.
This isn’t about the quality of our educational programs. Our researchers hold millions of dollars in grants. Many members of our faculty have been recognized as 3M Teaching Fellows, Canada’s most prestigious award for excellence in educational leadership. We are consistently ranked one of the best Canadian universities for educational experience, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.
Trinity simply is being punished for asking its faculty and students to observe traditional Christian teachings on marriage through a community covenant. In 2001 the high court ruled decisively that this policy did not disqualify the university from training public-school teachers. It seemed as if the ruling gave Trinity a secure place as one of the few private faith-based schools in Canada.
But that was then. In 2012 Trinity decided to open a law school. It would have been the only private one in Canada and the only one to offer a specialty in charity law. It was an arduous task from the beginning. Three provincial law societies—similar to state bar associations in the U.S.—said no in March 2014. Everyone agreed that Trinity’s program met all the requirements and would train competent lawyers. But law societies across the country held public meetings during which Trinity’s students and faculty were called bigots and worse.
The Law Society of Upper Canada, the nation’s oldest and largest, told the high court in Ottawa during oral arguments on Nov. 30, 2017, that accrediting any “distinctly religious” organization would violate the Canadian Charter, which is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights. It added that when the government licenses a private organization it adopts all its policies as its own. If these arguments had been accepted, they would have spelled the end of Canada’s nonprofit sector. In their zeal to root out the supposed bigotry of traditional religious believers, these lawyers were prepared to dynamite Canada’s entire civil society.
Thankfully the court passed over some of our opponents’ more extreme arguments. Instead, on June 15 it ruled that making Trinity’s faith-based community standards mandatory could harm the dignity of members of the LGBT community who attend Trinity. The majority of the court concluded that this potential dignitary harm to future LGBT law students was “concrete,” while the infringement on Trinity’s religious liberty from refusing to accredit its qualified law program was “minimal.”
We respectfully disagree with the court. As the British Columbia Court of Appeal put it when it ruled in favor of Trinity’s law school in November 2016, a “society that does not admit of and accommodate difference is not a free and democratic society, one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge accepted norms without fear of reprisal.”
Despite this blow, Trinity will stand firm in its beliefs—which extend far beyond what the court ruled on. While all this controversy has swirled around us, Trinity alumni have continued their remarkable record of service. Two graduates, Richard Taylor and Jeffery Komant, opened a school in Rwanda, and another established an organization to rescue child prostitutes in India. A group of Trinity alumni successfully lobbied Parliament to allow Yazidi refugees to enter Canada more quickly. Current Trinity students have founded a campus support network for survivors of sexual assault and raised money to sponsor a refugee family from Congo.
We are disappointed but we are not deterred. We will continue to be a biblically based, mission-driven university committed to provide everyone an excellent education—regardless of race, sexuality, gender orientation or religion. We will continue to teach our students the importance of using their skills to serve others. And above all, we will continue to stand firm, and be what we have always been—a “distinctively Christian” community.
Mr. Kuhn is president of Trinity Western University.
Appeared in the June 22, 2018, print edition.