Trinity Western University (TWU) is a University in British Columbia that explicitly holds certain Christian creeds at its foundation. In their own words, they hold a “Christ-centred approach to education”, whatever that means. They have been in the news recently as they’ve started a law school on their premises, and it has come to the attention of Canadians that this school forbids sexual intimacy (i.e. sex) between people who aren’t 1) married, and 2) of opposite sex (for the purposes of this essay I won’t be going the problems with a worldview that only recognises the existence of two sexes in a strict binary sense). It’s worth noting that their policy is not only homophobic, but it also impacts anyone who is heterosexual, in a relationship, but not married. But, of course, that second part is entirely minor, and (in practice) doesn’t discriminate against an entire class of already-oppressed people.
Various law societies around Canada have voted to determine if they will recognise the accreditation from TWU, and the response has been mixed. Nova Scotia’s law society, for example, has rightly agreed to accredit if and only if the school drops the discrimination against non-binary, non-heterosexual people. Ontario’s law society has simply refused to recognise the accreditation. Meanwhile, the Law Society of British Columbia has agreed to recognise this accreditation. Reviewing this opinion piece by Tony Wilson, a member who voted in favour of accepting the accreditation of TWU’s law school, should be instructive in understanding the ethical failings of a law degree.
Tony’s main (misguided) point is found about half-way into the article (the bold-font is my addition):
Despite being an atheist with “no horse in this race,” I voted the way I did because of something called the rule of law, which among other things, dictates that courts and administrative bodies like ours shouldn’t cherry pick the laws we like from the ones we don’t.
The idea of “the rule of law” dictating that administrative bodies shouldn’t cherry pick the laws they like is nonsense. The history of law, of society, of growth and change in communities is full of examples of people (and administrative bodies) taking ethical stances and forcing the law to be reviewed (and often changed) in the face of that ethical stance. It is also unfortunately the case that administrative bodies predominately do not take ethical stances, take ethically unsound stances instead, and choose to support institutions that promote oppression. This second position is the one that Tony Wilson is staking out.
It’s important to note here that this stance is a declaration of “it’s not my fault”: he is abdicating his responsibility as a citizen of Canada, of BC, to take an ethical stance in favour of pointing the finger at the Supreme Court of Canada. “They have decided, so I have lost all ability to make decisions” he declares. While this lie is, I’m sure, comforting, it is no less a lie.
Tony is absolutely correct when he writes (again, bold-face is my addition):
I believe that the benchers must follow the decisions of higher courts, particularly the Supreme Court of Canada. That’s the way our justice system works. Otherwise the law is nothing more than the political, ethical and unpredictable partialities of one judge, and laws developed in this fashion are neither fair, consistent nor predictable.
For clarity: his first two sentences are entirely incorrect. The law is nothing more than the political, ethical and unpredictable partialities of one judge. Again, the history of law bears this out. An exemplar of this is the case of Riggs v. Palmer (1889): a man murdered his grandfather for the inheritance, and the judge decided that the legal will of the grandfather (leaving the money to the murderer) was voided. Arguably, this decision was fair, but it was absolutely NOT consistent, nor predictable. It strikes me as odd that a member of the Law Society of British Columbia is so grossly ignorant of how the law works.
What’s the other choice here? That the Law Society of British Columbia refuses to accept the accreditation of members of TWU, that this then leads to them being sued, the case making its way up the courts, and the Supreme Court of Canada having a second case on the books whereby they have to make a decision about making law based on (or contrary to) ethics? I’m not seeing the problem here, Tony, that’s how the law works.
Trinity Western University has taken the position that it acceptable to oppress minorities. They have decreed that they will do so, and their only justification (to use that term in its loosest possible sense) is to appeal to religious principles that many adherents of that religion reject. The onus is on members of administrative bodies to take an ethical stance against this oppression, or be complicit in the oppression. These are the only two choices that are on the table, there is no third option: to allow this to come to pass, to empower TWU by accepting their students as practitioners of law in other provinces, is to implicitly endorse their policies of oppression.
Sure, we can bleat about religious freedom (as, I’m appalled to say, the BC Civil Liberties Association does), but no-one is preventing the administrators of TWU from remaining monogomous, no-one is preventing the unmarried administrators from abstaining from sex, and no-one is requiring attendees of that school to engage in sexual relations with people of the same sex. The only “religious freedom” being impinged upon here is the much championed freedom to oppress others.
And anyone who can’t take an ethical stance against that has failed as a human being.