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Civil rights group defends important freedoms in Trinity Western University case

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association will argue tomorrow before the Supreme Court of Canada that Trinity Western University and its students have a right to hold religious views and not suffer state sanctions as a result. The BCCLA is intervening in the hearing.

Trinity Western University (TWU), a private university that is provincially accredited to grant degrees, including a Bachelor of Education, is responding to the B.C. College of Teachers’ refusal to certify TWU’s five year teaching program because of the University’s 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 of Teachers argues that it would not be in the public interest to certify the program, and that TWU graduates might discriminate against gay and lesbian students once they are teaching in public schools. The College wants to require the students to take their last year at Simon Fraser University, so they would be exposed to secular values.

Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that the College of Teachers cannot refuse to certify the program because of the code of conduct, and ordered the College to approve the program. The College is appealing the decision.

“Even though many people may disagree with fundamentalist Christian views, the faculty and students of Trinity Western should nevertheless be free to hold and express those views,” said BCCLA lawyer Tim Delaney. “The decision by the College of Teachers unjustifiably infringes on the freedom of religion and association of the students and faculty of Trinity Western. And aside from the code of conduct, no evidence was presented by the College that would support the claim the program’s graduates are likely to discriminate against gay students.”

B.C.’s Human Rights Code specifically exempts private institutions from charges of discrimination. This allows 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.

“The decision of the College of Teachers could potentially have far reaching consequences,” said Delaney “If upheld, it is arguable that accreditation, licencing and certification of many religious-based institutions could be denied on the basis that their beliefs are unpopular.”

Tim Delaney, from the law firm Lindsay Kenney, will present his argument tomorrow to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. The hearing begins at 9:45 EST.