Christian School Wins One in Hostile Canadian Climate

LANGLEY, British Columbia — Canadian Christian educators and social activists were cheered May 17 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 8–1 in favor of Trinity Western University, in its battle with the British Columbia College of Teachers.

Trinity Western in Langley, British Columbia, is a full degree-granting university of 2,850 students, affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of Canada.

For five years, Trinity Western has been fighting a B.C. College of Teachers ruling barring it from accrediting its education graduates for public school teaching. Trinity Western's Christian code of student conduct forbids “practices that are biblically condemned,” like homosexual activity (and indeed any pre-marital sex) drinking and gambling.

The College of Teachers argued that this must encourage Trinity Western's education grads subsequently to be discriminatory or “homophobic” in their public school classrooms.

For more than a decade, however, Trinity Western's four-year bachelor of education graduates have had to take a fifth-year accreditation practicum at a neighboring public university. And Trinity Western argued successfully that the College of Teachers had no concrete evidence that its existing alumni have ever discriminated against homosexual public school students.

The case was the first real test of the boundary between religious freedom and “sexual orientation” rights, since sexual orientation was “read into” the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the Supreme Court some four years ago.

So, as the issue moved from trial court to the court of appeals and Supreme Court, it attracted inter-venors like the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and even the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on the side of Trinity Western.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) waded in on the side of the B.C. College of Teachers.

In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that students from a sectarian education could qualify for public employment. The court upheld the right of the B.C. College of Teachers to question whether any university's practices did indeed uphold the social objectives of public education. But it also ruled that the question could be answered only by reference to concrete evidence of bigotry or discrimination.

Democracy Wins

Trinity Western's executive vice president, Guy Saffold, in charge of the school's legal campaign, said the court's decision was “critical for democracy,” because it affirmed that “in our multicultural and multi-faith society, people cannot be arbitrarily penalized or barred from participating in public life simply because they hold religious views. … The B.C. College of Teachers was only able to cite vague suspicions and stereotypes to justify its position. Such stereotypes are anathema to our laws and themselves amount to discrimination.”

For its part, the College of Teachers said that it would “accept the court's decision.” And Canadian homosexual rights activists largely refused to characterize the decision as a setback in their national campaign for “equality rights.”

Homosexual activist Stephen Lock of Calgary, Alberta, said he found the court's decision “reasonably fair.” Lock described the court's position as, “You can think what you want, but you can't impose what you think on others,” and like most homosexual activists, he was not particularly upset by it.

“I don't think the government should dictate to religious institutions what they should believe,” he said. “If you later find a Trinity grad discriminating against gay or lesbian students — saying all homosexuals are going to hell or something — then you can deal with that issue as it arises.”

But Catholic lawyer Iain Benson, director of the Ottawa-based Center for Cultural Renewal, said that the ruling was far more significant than the homosexual activists let on.

He summed up his feelings this way: “[A] big sigh of relief.”

“With an 8–1 majority, this is a very significant decision and a very important victory for freedom of religion in Canada.” Canada's homosexual activists have been engaged in a legal campaign to “deny the right to affirm publicly the universal norm of the traditional family,” said Benson.

And in a series of legal challenges to parental authority over school curriculum, the freedom of commercial transactions, inheritance rights and the legal definition of marriage, they have made a great deal of progress.

But now, Benson suggested, the court has affirmed that religious freedom includes not merely the right to believe privately, but also the right to “manifest, disseminate and teach” those beliefs.

Despite the fact that it has spent much of the past decade affirming homosexuality as a public norm, the court has now asked itself whether it can also allow the religious contradiction of that norm to have a place in the public discourse. And the court has ruled in favor of such pluralism.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the decision for confirming “that it is wrong to stereotype people with religious beliefs as intolerant or to suggest that students of religious institutions are unqualified to work in the public sector.”

Conference spokesman Father William Kokesh added: “the decision underlines that it is not acceptable to withhold a public benefit from an individual or a religious institution on the basis of belief as distinct from merit.

“It reinforces the understanding that genuine pluralism makes room for a variety of beliefs from a variety of sources.”