Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… Last week, I noted that 63% of our Federal MPs are newly elected, with 84% of Liberal MPs brand new. It has been over 20 years since so many rookies were sitting in the legislature.
One could be a bit nervous with so many new and inexperienced politicians at the helm. Or we could look at this as an opportune time to pray and seek to influence these many fresh-faced MPs. Our new Prime Minister has promised a more open and transparent Parliament with many more “free” votes. Meaning, our MPs get to vote their conscience, not their Party’s official stand on current significant issues such as assisted suicide/euthanasia, decriminalizing marijuana, prostitution and religious freedom.
Last week I gave an update on the current assisted suicide/euthanasia debate. Today I want to update you on religious freedom in Canada.
Religious Freedom at Home
Seven weeks ago (December 12), I received news from Trinity Western University’s (TWU) President, Bob Kuhn, that
“The BC Supreme Court has just ruled to quash the BC Law Society’s decision and restored the result of their vote on April 11, 2014, which was to recognize the qualifications of TWU Law graduates. As you know, it is vital that we protect our right to maintain an authentic community of faith and learning, free to express our Christian identity through our Community Covenant. The fact is that TWU, for itself and other people of faith, is an important part of Canada’s diversity — the freedom to follow one’s conscience and religious convictions is one of the greatest blessings our country has given us. Moving forward, we’ll wait to see how the BC Law Society responds to today’s decision, as well as prepare for the appeal processes in both Ontario and Nova Scotia in the Spring of 2016. Please pray for God’s hand to guide us.”
Bob’s reference to Ontario and Nova Scotia is the recent loss in Ontario and win in Nova Scotia against their provincial Law Societies seeking to ban future TWU Law graduates practicing in their provinces. Justice Campbell of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (January 2015) handed a comprehensive judgement (139 pages) strongly in favour of TWU and establishing TWU’s right to retain a place in our pluralistic society without discrimination. Ontario’s judgement was not so favourable and is being appealed.
This is a critical issue in our nation which all thinking Christians need to be concerned about. Although we live in a pluralistic society, all beliefs and values do not seem to receive equal weight. There is no denying this even after just a cursory read of our media.
Trinity Western’s battle is all of our battle. Let’s make no mistake about it: this is a religious freedom debate that must be won or our nation will be poorer for it. Please pray with me for the appeal cases TWU will undertake in the spring of 2016 in Ontario and Nova Scotia and later in BC with the BC Law Society appealing the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of BC (appeal filed January 5, 2016).
At a recent gathering of evangelical Denomination Leaders in Winnipeg, I heard that TWU is expecting five more years of legal fighting at a cost of more than $3 million dollars. At issue is a faith community’s right to self-define as a Faith Community. Their opponents are much better organized than 15 years ago when they lost their fight (2001) to ban TWU teacher candidates from teaching in our schools. And they are clearly not interested in a reasonable compromise. They want “evangelical bigotry” erased from society. Join me in praying for TWU as they continue this legal dialogue on behalf of all Canadian evangelicals. They need our financial support too as they continue the legal challenges.
RECENT RULING in BC: The FACTS (from EFC email)
The BC Supreme Court ruled in favour of Trinity Western University (TWU) in its legal challenge against the Law Society of British Columbia.
Chief Justice Hinkson ruled that the Law Society of BC had not adequately considered the religious freedom Charter rights of TWU and its students.
“We welcome the outcome of the decision and the court’s recognition that the Law Society’s refusal to recognize future TWU law graduates’ degrees ‘conclusively… infringe(s) (their) right to freedom of religion’,” says Bruce Clemenger, President of Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Lawyer Geoffrey Trotter of Vancouver, who served as co-counsel to the EFC, explains: “The court ruled that the benchers denied TWU the opportunity to present its case during their deliberations and to have its submissions fairly and fully considered, and that the benchers wrongly bound themselves to a referendum of all BC lawyers in which there was no evidence that the voting members gave any consideration to the Charter rights of TWU and its students.”
In light of today’s ruling, the EFC calls upon the provincial government to re-approve the TWU law degree program so that the school can open as soon as possible.
· TWU, a private Christian liberal arts university with six professional schools, won approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in December 2013 which represented the provisional approval of the Law Society of BC (LSBC) as well. As a result, the BC government approved the law degree program two days later.
· In April 2014 the LSBC benchers (directors) considered a motion to not recognize TWU’s law school and the motion was defeated, thus confirming TWU’s law accreditation.
· In June 2014 a special general meeting requisitioned by LSBC members was held to reconsider TWU’s law school and a resolution not to recognize TWU’s law school passed. The benchers then put the matter to a referendum of all BC lawyers, promising to implement the results of the vote.
· In October 2014, based on the referendum results, the benchers reversed themselves and banned future TWU law graduates from admission to the law society. As a result, the BC government subsequently revoked its approval for the law degree as well.
· TWU’s legal challenge to the LSBC decision was heard in the BC Supreme Court in August 2015, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Christian Higher Education Canada jointly intervened in support of robust religious freedom guarantees for minorities including through respecting voluntary Statements of Faith and Conduct, and a robust pluralism requiring the State to respect religious difference and not to restrict access to professions based on minority religious beliefs or affiliations.
· The LSBC filed an Appeal on January 5, 2016.
READ if you want more Information
I recently sat down with one of TWU’s esteemed professors and asked him to comment on the current issue. We chatted and he followed up with an email. I found his email very helpful in framing the issue and the significant future consequences to all of us if TWU were to lose this challenge. And so, I have added his helpful comments below:
We have a great country that has historically upheld freedom of religious rights. Let’s be praying, writing our MPs and sending financial support to TWU to help support their significant legal costs.
Have a blessed week,