by Jack Taylor
For many evangelicals, the weight of Romans 1 just got heavier after the June 15 Supreme Court ruling (7-2) against Trinity Western University’s (TWU) desire to establish a Christian-based law school framed by a community covenant. There is no question that the institution went to the mat for its conservative constituents and there is some valid fear that the ruling could have backlash in the nursing and educational fields with potential blowback on TWU’s standing as a Canadian University.
With a microscopic scalpel of judicial logic the High Court gave the appearance of ruling in one moment (Wall vs. Jehovah Witnesses) that a religious organization had a right to determine its own membership when designed to function within the private domain but does not have the right to determine its own membership when designed to impact the public domain. They also surgically separated the unity of religious preferences and religious requirements.
Dissenting Justices Russell Brown and Suzanne Cote note that the decision “turns the protective shield of the Charter into a sword by effectively imposing Charter obligations on private actors.”
National Post journalist, Chris Selley sees the decision of the majority as “sloppily argued and full of contradictions.” He highlights the statement of former chief justice Beverley McLachlin who writes with the majority while recognizing that “Students who do not agree with the religious practices do not need to attend…But if they want to attend, for whatever reason, and agree to the practices required of students, it is difficult to speak of compulsion.”
Earl Philips, Executive Director of the proposed school of law, admitted that “This is a very disappointing result for TWU, but even more importantly, it is a blow to all faith groups and other minority groups in Canada… The decision does not promote diversity and inclusion; it demands conformity and excludes difference.” He echoes the dissenting judges when he says that the Charter has been turned on its head. “Instead of a defense against the state’s intrusion on individual rights, it imposes the state’s obligations on individuals.”
Carson Pue, Special Assistant to President Bob Kuhn, reiterates the BC Court of Appeals ruling from November 2016 when it ruled in favor of Trinity. We read there that 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.”
Derek Ross, Executive Director of Christian Legal Fellowship, helped argue the case for Trinity and claims to be troubled by “six areas in particular that merit pause, criticism, and further reflection moving forward.” He cites these six areas as 1. A diminished understanding of religion; 2. A departure from the the principle of precedence; 3. A dismissive approach to religious equality, expression, and association 4. A reliance on “amorphous charter values”; 5. Focus on public perception rather than rights adjudication; 6. Perpetuating diversity’s blind spot. For a full script see www.christianlegalfellowship.org/twucasecomment.
Ross cites the dissenting opinion which he quotes as: “Properly understood, secularism connotes pluralism and respect for diversity, not the suppression of full participation in society by imposing a forced choice between conformity with a single majoritarian norm and withdrawal from the public square. Secularism does not exclude religious beliefs, even discriminatory religious beliefs, from the public square. Rather, it guarantees an inclusive public square by neither privileging nor silencing any single view.”
We see how challenging the trend in recent legislation and public practice is for the courts as they consider how they should protect and promote the Charter rights for all of us.
With so many dollars, hours and prayers spent on behalf of TWU, parishioners may ask “where is God in all this?” Prophets and pastors might ponder the question: “Is this judgment day for TWU or for Canada?” God’s sovereignty has not been compromised so what is he allowing? How do we be wise as serpents and harmless as doves?
Or is it judgment day for those of us who have been so long sequestered into our small local huddles, fearing what the government might do to take away our rights, that we haven’t thought about the strength of lifting our heads and our voices together so that others know we are here? Laura-Lynn Thompson observes in her talks that “Our perspective can frame the level of our courage.” Do we have a chance for a new perspective now?
Is this a time where we need a ‘son of Issachar’ to discern the times and understand what we should do (I Chronicles 12:32) or is it too late for that?
With Bob Kuhn’s final year as president looming, the governing board at Trinity faces its own judgment day. Is the desire for a law school greater than the hunger for the current community covenant?