It was December nearly 35 years ago that I visited Pearl Harbour and stood on the memorial bridge over the USS Arizona.
Commemorated on that spot is the unprovoked sacrifice that was made by many because of a pre-emptive military strike intended to keep the United States out of a war that they had already chosen not to engage in. Pearl Harbour changed that resolve and the future of a nation as the unwarranted attack on the USA brought them into World War II.
This week, three and a half decades after my visit to Pearl Harbour, the combined pressure of three Canadian lawyers’ groups has induced the Government of British Columbia to fire the shot intended to sink Trinity Western University’s aspirations to develop a law school. The decision of BC’s Minister of Advanced Education is a critical turning point.
Trinity Western University is the little university that could.
Founded in 1962 as a college, in 1985 TWU received full accreditation as a university. A small, private university of 3,600 – not like the goliath-like structures of the 50,000 student University of British Columbia or 80,000 strong University of Toronto – TWU doesn’t dig into the public pot for its funding, but invites donations from its community of support and sets tuition fees to meet its needs.
This “little university that could” established a school of education, graduates of which the BC College of Teachers would only recognize if they completed an additional year at a public university. There was nothing wrong with TWU’s standard of education. In fact, TWU credits were fully transferable.
The issue was the religious beliefs of the TWU community, summarized in a community covenant that was developed and agreed to by faculty, staff and students. TWU considered the College of Teachers’ position to be discrimination based on religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed, ruling in 2001 that the community covenant was appropriate for the private religious institution and that the professional body regulated only the behaviour of those academically qualified graduates who entered the profession, which TWU grads would be as long as the school met the academic standards established by the BC government and the College of Teachers.
In 2004 the Supreme Court offered similar advice in its decision concerning same-sex marriage. The court noted Canada is a nation that constitutionally provides for a diversity of individual and institutional opinions on marriage, and Parliament had the constitutional authority to decide only a civil definition of marriage.
Parliament recognized this diversity, and particular protection for religious individuals and institutions in the ”expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others,” in the 2005 legislation changing the definition of civil marriage to “the lawful marriage of two persons.”
Since 2001 TWU has established several graduate schools, including a business school with an MBA program and a nursing school – with some of its nursing graduates recently honoured among Time magazine’s 2014 people of the year; the Ebola fighting medical team on the front lines of the disease.
Consistently recognized by Maclean’s magazine and the Globe and Mail as one of Canada’s top universities, TWU enlisted some of Canada’s leading lawyers and legal educators to develop the proposal for a school of law.
Only after every “t” was crossed and every “i” dotted did TWU send its proposal – for a privately funded law school that would add 60 seats per year to the 2,700 available law school capacity in Canada – to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (the accrediting group approved by all of Canada’s law societies) and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education. Satisfying all academic and legal requirements, approval for the law school was given by both bodies.
Then, law societies (governing bodies for the practice of law) in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia disavowed their previously agreed standards by deciding, in similar fashion to the BC College of Teachers, they will not recognize academically and legally qualified graduates of TWU’s school of law because of a line in the university’s five page Christian community covenant that requires students, administrators and faculty to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Canada has been here before. Not just in regard to TWU’s school of education. There was a time when people from stated faith or visible minority communities were not permitted to practice law. These egregious situations and others contributed to Canada’s development of what is now a world renowned human rights infrastructure, ultimately leading to the inclusion of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our constitution in 1982.
With all academic and legal requirements satisfied, Trinity Western University School of Law graduates are being excluded from the practice of law only because of their religious beliefs.
I share those religious beliefs, so maybe I’m next even though I didn’t attend TWU. At what point do the group of lawyers, self-identified LGBT activists and government officials standing against TWU decide they can force their beliefs on me, my church or you and yours?
Because of this unprovoked attack, TWU has become the focal point of the expensive process of fighting the battle for religious freedom in the courts.
TWU is the first law school applicant in the history of our nation to meet all the academic and legal criteria to open and then to have that taken away, because of its religious beliefs. TWU fought and won this battle in 2001. They shouldn’t have to fight it again… or alone.
Trinity Western University is not just the little university that could. It is the little university that can.
TWU president Bob Kuhn has said, “We remain committed to having a school of law and now have to carefully consider all our options.” The BC Minister of Advanced Education has said TWU may re-apply after the lawsuits with the law societies are resolved.
Trinity Western University needs our support.
Will you commit to joining me in prayer for TWU’s president Bob Kuhn, executive director of the law school Earl Phillips and other TWU staff, students and graduates?
Will you join me in offering financial support for the expensive process of fighting in the courts?
Here’s my challenge. As this year end approaches, send a donation to Trinity Western University for the law school in the amount of $10 for every $10,000 you earn per year.
If you make $50,000 a year that’s a $50 donation (for which you will get a tax deductible receipt) and leaves you plenty to give to support your other favourite charities. TWU has some difficult decisions to make in the next few weeks and the cost of going to court to defend the rights of Christians across Canada shouldn’t weigh on their minds.
Other organizations, good organizations, will be seeking your financial support to engage in this court battle; but none will be there if TWU doesn’t have the financial support to be there themselves.
Here’s the link to donate: http://twu.ca/giving/projects/school-of-law.html
And one more thing, please share this blog on your twitter feed, facebook wall, by email or however you can get the message out to others inviting them to stand with us as we stand with Trinity Western University!