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Canada Supreme Court Rules Christian University Can Be Denied Accreditation

large administrative building, the Supreme Court of Canada

On Friday, Canada's Supreme Court sided with Ontario's law society, preventing Trinity Western University from establishing a new law school that would be recognized in Ontario. In ruling against the college, the Supreme Court redefined a "Christian environment," declaring that a code of conduct is of "minor significance" to a Christian institution of higher education. This decision could spell doom for Christian colleges across Canada — and perhaps even threaten the integrity of all sorts of Christian organizations.

Trinity Western University, a private institution of higher education in Langley, British Columbia, requires students to abide by a conduct covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman. Canada's Supreme Court ruled that such a conduct code would exclude potential law students who identify as LGBT, or cause "significant harm" to those who do attend.

This misrepresentation of the covenant poses a significant threat beyond this case. The argument may start with a proposed law school, but it could undermine other private institutions with traditional codes of conduct regarding sexual morality.

"This limitation is of minor significance because a mandatory covenant is not absolutely required to study law in a Christian environment in which people follow certain religious rules of conduct, and attending a Christian law school is preferred, not necessary, for prospective TWU law students," the court ruled.

While a Christian environment is indeed possible without a mandatory covenant, a private institution should be able to take efforts to ensure such an environment. The court's argument that this covenant is of "minor significance" involved the state determining what is or is not necessary to make a Christian environment — a significant overreach into the school's religious standard.

The court minimized the importance of such a covenant while "balancing" the college's religious freedom with LGBT students' equal access to a legal education. In effect, this elevated LGBT claims over a Christian organization's freedom to determine its own environment, with very little concrete benefit to the LGBT community and a great deal of harm to institutional freedom.

"It is inimical to the integrity of the legal profession to limit access on the basis of personal characteristics," the court argued. "This is especially so in light of the societal trust enjoyed by the legal profession. The reality is that most LGBTQ individuals will be deterred from attending TWU's proposed law school, and those who do attend will be at the risk of significant harm."

"In this case, the effect of the mandatory Covenant is to restrict the conduct of others," the judges argued. Denying accreditation to the school "prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school. These individuals would have to deny who they are for three years to receive a legal education. Being required by someone else’s religious beliefs to behave contrary to one’s sexual identity is degrading and disrespectful" (emphasis added).