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Civil rights group defends TWU’s freedoms

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association today began its defence, in the B.C. Court of Appeal, of Trinity Western University’s right to hold unpopular religious views and not suffer state sanctions as a result. The civil rights group is intervening in the hearing.

A private Christian fundamentalist institution, TWU is responding to the B.C. College of Teachers, which withheld certification of TWU’s proposed five year teacher program because of TWU’s discriminatory code of conduct. TWU requires students and faculty to sign a code of conduct that bars them from engaging in “biblically condemned” activities, including homosexual behaviour.

The College argues that it would not be in the public interest to certify the program, and that it is concerned that TWU graduates might discriminate against gay and lesbian students once they are teaching in the public school system. It would require TWU education students to take their last year at SFU, so that they would be exposed to secular values.

Last year, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the College could not refuse to certify the program simply because of its code of conduct, and ordered the College to approve the program. The College is appealing that decision.

“Even though many may disagree with its fundamentalist Christian views, TWU should nevertheless be free to hold and express those views,” said BCCLA lawyer Tim Delaney today. “The College has no authority to pass judgement on teacher education programs based solely on the religious views of the applicant. And aside from the code of conduct, no evidence was presented by the College that would support the claim that TWU graduates are likely to discriminate against homosexuals.”

“What is at stake in this case are the freedoms of religion and association, which are guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Mr. Delaney. “Can a private, religious institution restrict membership to those who share its views, however unpopular, and not suffer state sanctions as a result? We say that this lies at the heart of the freedom of religion.”

Also of note is that B.C.’s Human Rights Code specifically exempts private institutions from charges of discrimination. This allows the literally thousands of private associations in B.C. to limit membership to those who share their views, who are of the same sex, or who share their cultural background.

Mr. Delaney, from the law firm Lindsay Kenney, will continue the BCCLA’s arguments at 10:00 A.M. tomorrow in Courtroom 61.