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Top court rules law societies can deny accreditation to Christian university’s school

Societies governing the legal profession have the right to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at a Christian university in British Columbia, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a pair of keenly anticipated decisions Friday, the high court said law societies in Ontario and British Columbia were entitled to ensure equal access to the bar, support diversity and prevent harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.

The cases pitted two significant societal values — freedom of religion and promotion of equality — against one another.

Trinity Western University, a private post-secondary institution in Langley, B.C., was founded on evangelical Christian principles and requires students to adhere to a covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman.

Law societies overseeing the profession in Ontario and British Columbia say they would not license graduates from Trinity Western because the covenant amounts to discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario had upheld the rejection, while B.C.’s top court sided with the university.

In each case, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favour of the respective law society.

A majority found that the decisions to deny accreditation were reasonable because they appropriately balanced the interference to freedom of religion with the public-interest objectives of the law societies.

In the decision concerning Ontario, five Supreme Court justices said the province’s law society interfered only with the university’s ability to operate a law school governed by the mandatory covenant.

“This limitation is of minor significance because a mandatory covenant is not absolutely required to study law in a Christian environment in which people follow certain religious rules of conduct, and attending a Christian law school is preferred, not necessary, for prospective TWU law students.”

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