Law Students Across Canada Rally Against Trinity Western Law School Proposal

Today students at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law are among law students across the country voicing concern over Trinity Western University’s (TWU) proposed law school. Students at Dalhousie law have joined a letter writing campaign to influence the decision that the Federation of Law Societies must make to permit or bar TWU from opening a law school.

TWU, a faith-based university, submitted a proposal for accreditation to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in June 2012. The concern over TWU’s proposal centres on the school’s discriminatory policies towards LGBTQ individuals. To attend TWU students must sign a community covenant agreement requiring the student to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Students who do not comply with the covenant agreement may be removed from the university without readmission.

OUTLaw, a student group for LGBTQ individuals and those who support them at Dalhousie law, initiated a school wide discussion on TWU’s proposal last week. A town hall discussion was held and no clear consensus was reached among the student body. Many students supported speaking out against TWU’s proposal while others believed that the right to Freedom of Religion was at stake and that TWU’s proposal should be supported.

OUTLaw decided to draft a letter to be sent to the Federation of Law Societies on their behalf, inviting individual members of the student body to become signatories.  The letter will be sent to the Federation of Law Societies today along with the letters of other law schools across the country. Signatories express that a future lawyers and officers of the court, they are committed to equality and promoting the values of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms within their own practices. They believe that their colleagues should be exposed to a learning environment that fosters the same.

The OUTLaw letter, drafted by third year law student Chelsey Roy, emphasizes the value of the town hall discussion that occurred at Dalhousie and how such a forum for debate, allowing for a diversity of opinions, may not be present at a TWU law school. Ms. Roy’s letter is copied, with permission, below.

“On March 5th, 2013, a Town Hall was held at the Schulich School of Law to discuss Trinity Western University’s proposal to create Canada’s next law school. At issue during the meeting were TWU’s discriminatory admissions and hiring policies, which include that no community member shall engage in sexual behaviour that violates the sacred bond of marriage between a man and a woman. The primary discussion point was whether an institution with such policies should educate students for the practice of law.

Those present at the meeting included gays and lesbians, who voiced concern not only about TWU’s policies, but also about the fact that another protected right –freedom of religion – could potentially be stifled by any action we might take. One Christian in the room shared with us his own faith-based educational background, and reminded us of the personal and voluntary choice an individual makes when agreeing to TWU’s community covenant, a choice that arguably should not be impeded. A number of straight people in attendance felt strongly that religion has no place in the teaching of law, and that TWU’s proposal should be opposed. Some felt that it would be best to live and let live.

In short, there was no obvious consensus at the Town Hall about whether or not we, as law students and future members of the legal profession, should take a stance on TWU’s proposed law school. What is obvious, though, is that the diversity of thought and opinion within the halls of the Schulich School of Law is great. What is also obvious, is that the respect we have for each other’s thoughts and opinionshere, no matter how divergent, is also great.

But perhaps the most obvious (and most important) thing is this: a Town Hall like the one held today would never happen at a TWU law school. Gays and lesbians would never sit in a classroom with Christians and Jews and atheists, challenging each other to take on new perspectives while encouraging respect and tolerance for everyone else’s, at a TWU law school. Whether or not those at TWU would want such a meeting to take place is irrelevant.

Whether or not they themselves discriminate in their daily lives is also irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that TWU’s policies simply would not allow for free, open, challenging, critical, respectful dialogue. What is the practice of law, if not all of those things? Does the rule of law not require that it be available freely and openly to all? Does the complexity of law not challenge us to be innovative and resourceful for our clients? Does the study of law not require us to think critically about difficult issues? Does our very own Constitution not require us to respect all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, or otherwise?If TWU is to be granted the privilege of opening Canada’s next law school, it should first ask itself if it is up to the challenge of having an open, honest, meaningful discussion about its policies and practices. If it finds itself unable to do so, then, in the words of its own student handbook, it “should seek a living-learning situation more acceptable to them”. “

** The information in this post is sourced from a press release sent to local news outlets and Ms. Roy’s letter, as well as my personal experience as a student at Dal law and my attendance at the town hall. **

6 Comments on "Law Students Across Canada Rally Against Trinity Western Law School Proposal"

  1. Yasemin Diamante, Dalhousie University | 18/03/2013 at 9:09 pm |
  2. Jamie K | 19/03/2013 at 8:25 pm |

    “a Town Hall like the one held today would never happen at a TWU law school. Gays and lesbians would never sit in a classroom with Christians and Jews and atheists, challenging each other to take on new perspectives while encouraging respect and tolerance for everyone else’s, at a TWU law school. Whether or not those at TWU would want such a meeting to take place is irrelevant.”

    As a TWU alumna, I find it incredibly close minded to assume that open and honest discussions never make a public appearance on campus. To declare that they “would never happen” is to say that your opinion on this matter is fact, when actually you appear to have done little research on the extensive and in depth critical thinking that goes on every day at TWU.

    In the end, how can opposing this law school NOT inhibit the fundamental right to Freedom of Religion? It is every student’s right to choose if they want to attend a school that maintains such a high moral code, but this article suggests that the TWU covenant prohibits free thinking and discussion and I see this as a gross misunderstanding.

  3. Yasemin | 26/03/2013 at 1:27 pm |

    Thanks for your response Jamie.

    You are correct to suggest that I haven’t done much research on the critical thinking that occurs at TWU, I was simply reporting what was occurring at Dalhousie campus that day so I did not feel the need to pursue my own research on the topic. And I would like to emphasize that I don’t think that the quality of education received by students is poor or any lower in quality than that received at secular schools. I think what is at issue though is not critical thinking, but openness. Perhaps TWU students can critique and question the values on which their covenant rests, but can a gay student be openly gay in their classrooms without fearing disciplinary action? Could they stand up in your classrooms and express an opinion that is based on their position and viewpoint as a gay member of society? If they cannot, then that is discrimination and it has no place in a law school where students are supposed learn that equality is one of the highest laws of our land.

    I think allowing for TWU to start a law school based on the right of freedom of religion could set a poor precedent. All we have to do is think of this issue on a larger scale. TWU starting a law school basically allows straight people an extra avenue into the legal profession that gay people, or at least those who wish to be openly gay, don’t have acces to. Now imagine that 5 more TWU-like law schools open. Have we not then effectively created a formal barrier to entering the legal profession for gay people?

    Freedom of religion is important, but equality is just as important. It seems as though your side of the debate emphasizes freedom of religion over the equality provisions of our Constitution. I think it is unfair to use Freedom of religion as a trump card effectively allowing for discrimination against others. How do you justify valuing freedom of religion over equality?

  4. Alex Bill, University of New Brunswick | 09/04/2013 at 8:18 pm |

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Trinity Western already faced this exact same debate several years ago regarding their education program. I believe the legal challenge failed in that case, so I’m not so optimistic about the current opposition.

    While I have little time for inherently discriminatory institutions, another argument that resonates (as it does with the proposal to establish a new law school in Newfoundland) is that the legal marketplace can absorb few more new graduates, leaving more and more graduates to navigate the wider job market to find their place in life.

  5. Allison Render, McGill University | 10/04/2013 at 7:52 am |

    Actually, Trinity won that one:
    http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2001/2001scc31/2001scc31.html

    However, I’m not so sure they’d win today. Social attitudes about homosexuality and religion have shifted dramatically in the last 12 years.

  6. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2202408

    This article, by Constitutional law Professor Elaine Craig, explores how the legal realm under which this consitutional question would be decided has also shifted.

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