Canadian law school case before Supreme Court tests press impartiality -- again

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Far from the maddening crowd of Donald Trump in Asia and Roy Moore in Alabama is a legal battle in Canada involving a private Christian law school that can’t get accredited because the institution affirms two millennia of Christian doctrine forbidding sex outside of marriage.

The matter is so contentious that its case will be heard Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 before the Canadian Supreme Court. Of course, here at GetReligion we are primarily interested in noting whether mainstream journalists are covering both sides of this debate with anything approaching fairness and accuracy.

I’ll have to hopscotch between news accounts to explain the whole thing. The Toronto Globe and Mail describes Trinity Western University thus

The private university, established in 1962, has a "Community Covenant" obliging students to sign a promise not to engage in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Law societies in both provinces voted against licensing the graduates, calling the school discriminatory. B.C.'s Court of Appeal overturned one such rejection, while Ontario's top court upheld the other.

Several paragraphs down, you get this:

Two same-sex advocacy groups, Start Proud and OUTlaws, say in a joint filing that the Community Covenant means LGBTQ persons, including married ones, "can never be their authentic selves while attending TWU. … No one should be forced to renounce their dignity and self-respect in order to obtain an education."

This case is a bit of a headspinner for Americans used to the likes of schools such as Brigham Young University and Liberty University, both of which are private schools that have doctrinal covenants forbidding students to sleep around. These –- and many other universities’ –- prohibition against same-sex relationships have caused some to charge them with violating Title IX (which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender stereotypes).

Although many American religious institutions have been granted exemption from Title IX since 2014, that hasn't stopped gay activists from trying to keep BYU out of the Big 12 (football) Conference because of its standards on extramarital sex. My colleague Bobby Ross has written on this

Canada apparently has no similar protections for faith-based schools, leaving them wide open to lawsuits. A 2015 piece in Crisis magazine explains that the country’s 2005 Civil Marriage Act (legalizing gay marriage) included provisions for religious dissent that are now being ignored.

Trinity Western, the largest evangelical Protestant college in Canada, had applied to start a law school in 2014 with the intent of opening by 2016. It would be the first faith-based law school in the country, somewhat like University of Notre Dame, Baylor University and Regent University law schools. 

Then three legal societies (in Ontario, Nova Scotia and BC itself) voted to deny accreditation because of the school’s stance against same-sex marriage and any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. TWU took them to court and the matter has been making its way through the Canadian legal system ever since. The Crisis piece added:

Not only are Christian lawyers being pushed out by their colleagues, but they are also experiencing ostracism from their clients. As the debate over TWU heated in the media, some of Canada’s most powerful corporations created Legal Leaders for Diversity(LLD), a group that now includes over 70 of Canada’s largest corporations. Through LLD, these companies aim to alter the legal landscape by choosing to do business only with pro-gay law firms. Never before has there been a concerted effort to essentially starve Christian law firms out of business.

Click on the second link in that piece and you’ll get a link from a 2014 piece in Canadian Lawyer stating how some firms are asking for “diversity metrics” from potential clients as a test of whom they’ll do business with.

Over to another Globe and Mail article, where the sticking point is:

Critics say it discriminates against people in the LGBTQ community who are looking to enter the legal profession.
But the university, which is located in the Fraser Valley community of Langley, B.C., and enrolls about 4,000 students annually, has said its law school will allow evangelical Christians to study law in an environment that supports their beliefs.
It also notes that it does not ban admission to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students or faculty, and said its community offers "an environment in which sexual minorities are supported, loved and respected."

What I don’t see mentioned in any article so far is there are three other law schools in British Columbia and no one is forcing a would-be student to attend Trinity. This piece in the Toronto Star about LGBTQ groups wanting in on this court case did not ask that basic question.

I recommend watching what happens in Canada as a possible bellwether of what may happen further to the south. Remember, Canada approved same-sex marriage in 2005, 10 years before the United States did. If the cultural progressives win, will it be open season on all religious institutions that ask adherents to toe the line on sex outside of heterosexual marriage? If the religious-liberty side wins, will this put the issue to rest or is this just the first battle?

There's a lot of history to this story and as this World magazine article points out, Trinity litigated a similar case in 2001 when there was a move to bar the school from starting a teachers college. A lot of Canadian media are on this, including the Vancouver Sun, which has its coverage stored here

But few of them have actually gone on Trinity's campus to interview potential law students and professors, nor have they asked around the Vancouver area, where thousands of TWU grads are quietly working, about any discrimination. Once again we face a journalism question: Is this a news story with two sides? Are journalists supposed to accurately cover the beliefs and actions of people on both sides of the debate?

The concept: Creating a legal atmosphere in which graduates from certain universities are blacklisted because of they defend centuries of religious doctrine is a fascinating one and something that will not go away.

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