Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Trinity Western Law School Wins Appeal In British Columbia

In Trinity Western University v. Law Society of British Columbia, (BC Ct. App., Nov. 1, 2016), the Court of Appeal for the Canadian province of British Columbia held that the province's Law Society acted unreasonably when it denied approval to a proposed new law school at the Christian-affiliated Trinity Western University. The Law Society's vote was a reaction to a requirement at the University that students sign a Community Covenant that, among other things, does not recognize same-sex marriage. The court summarized its decision in part as follows:
The issue on appeal is whether the Law Society met its statutory duty to reasonably balance the conflicting Charter rights engaged by its decision: the sexual orientation equality rights of LGBTQ persons and the religious freedom and rights of association of evangelical Christians. The Benchers initially voted to approve TWU’s law school. That decision was met with a backlash from members of the Law Society who viewed it as endorsement of discrimination against LGBTQ persons. The Benchers decided to hold a referendum and to be bound by the outcome. A majority of lawyers voted against approval. The Benchers then reversed their earlier position and passed a resolution not to approve TWU’s law school.
In doing so, the Benchers abdicated their responsibility to make the decision entrusted to them by the Legislature. They also failed to weigh the impact of the decision on the rights engaged. It was not open to the Benchers to simply adopt the decision preferred by the majority. The impact on Charter rights must be assessed concretely, based on evidence and not perception.
... [D]enying approval would not enhance access to law school for LGBTQ students. In contrast, a decision not to approve TWU’s law school would have a severe impact on TWU’s rights.... 
In a diverse and pluralistic society, government regulatory approval of entities with differing beliefs is a reflection of state neutrality. It is not an endorsement of a group’s beliefs.
CBC News reports on the decision. [Thanks to David Fernandes for the lead.]