Religious beliefs and practices are constitutionally guaranteed, not “silly” or “stupid”
Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 11:50AM
Don Hutchinson in Freedom of Religion, Law

By Don Hutchinson

Clayton Ruby’s personal crusade against a Canadian Christian university establishing a law school has resulted in marketing his opinion in four published newspaper pieces (National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Province). In addition, Clayton and I debated the issue on CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, which I wrote about in The Uncaged Christian Lawyer.

Clayton’s line of argument in each instance demonstrates a personal bias against all Canadians who hold religious beliefs – beliefs he has depicted variously as “silly” and “stupid.”

Clayton Ruby advocates the restriction of religion to private belief without public expression. He supports this extreme position by quoting two lines from a 2001 Supreme Court of Canada decision involving Trinity Western University. One line was a failed prediction by the court, which I’ll get to later. The second, he quotes out of context in a manner that distorts the court’s final, and binding, decision.

Couched in a caricature of the LGBT community, Clayton launches his attack asserting a professional arrogance that declares the practice of law is a more important career choice than any other which might be made by Canadians. Accordingly Trinity Western may, in his opinion, have other professional schools, as they do, but should be denied the opportunity to teach law.

In his argument, Clayton’s caricatured image of LGBT identity suggests that if gays and lesbians cannot engage in sexual activities on a university campus their humanity is being compromised. I have friends who tell me that such imagery makes them feel reduced to being described as sex addicts rather than respected for who they truly are.

In continuing this sleight of hand/words, Clayton then presents an inaccurate portrayal of same sex marriage as it has been legally defined and implemented in Canada. Both the Supreme Court and the Parliament of Canada accept that there exist differing opinions on same sex marriage. This divergence of opinion was not just recognized but protected in law when same sex marriage was legalized, noted as being “not against the public interest,” to be respected in the diversity that is Canada’s free and democratic society, and posing no violation to the equality rights of gays and lesbians. Trinity Western University’s president makes that point forcefully and accurately in his reply to Clayton’s opinion article in the Vancouver Province.

Trinity Western is a privately funded Christian university, like several others in Canada. TWU went to the Supreme Court of Canada to secure its right to prepare students to practice in self-regulating professional careers. The court affirmed that religious beliefs and practices are protected, and vigorously so, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In an 8 to 1 decision the Supreme Court of Canada declared the religious Canadian university has the constitutional right to exist, the constitutional right to establish behavioural requirements based on beliefs and the constitutional right to teach students from a faith perspective; with graduates who fulfill the necessary academic requirements to be recognized by the requisite professional association, in the instance of that decision by the British Columbia College of Teachers.

The essence of the Supreme Court’s determination in regard to TWU having a school of education was the same standard applied to any other university. Are the academic requirements being met? That’s an objective question, measured by an objective set of standards.

The BCCT was told it could not discriminate against people on the basis of their personal beliefs.  

At that point, the court did indeed state, “The proper place to draw the line in cases like the one at bar is generally between belief and conduct … The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them.” It said so in the context of teachers teaching in the public school classroom after receiving their duly earned certification from the BCCT. The public school classroom is not a church pulpit. It is governed by the code of conduct required by members of the College of Teachers.

However, the professional constraints of engaging in teaching children did not and do not alter the court’s consistent expression (originally stated in R. v. Big M, repeated in TWU v BCCT and in cases since) that “The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.” This is the religious freedom that applies to individuals and to communities, such as that at TWU or your neighbourhood community church.

Even the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has taken a position contrary to that expressed by Clayton. The BCCLA references the same Supreme Court decisions, with nothing taken out of context.

Every university in Canada has admission standards. Explore a university website and you will find a code of behaviour for students. In a high profile case, the University of Calgary is in court for actions it took to discipline students for non-academic behaviour that violated the U of C’s code.

TWU’s code includes in its five pages reference to an expected standard for staff and students that they refrain from sexual activity outside of TWU’s religious community’s accepted definition of marriage. No student has been expelled for violation. TWU also prohibits smoking, alcohol consumption and other activities on campus. And it asks students to commit to “treat people and ideas with charity and respect” and “cultivate Christian virtues, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, humility, forgiveness, peacemaking, mercy and justice.” Read it. It’s on their website.

Where the Supreme Court got it wrong in 2001 was in reckoning, “… we conclude that a homosexual student would not be tempted to apply for admission…” Not only have gay students attended and graduated from TWU, so have students from other faith communities. They too have publicly endorsed TWU’s application to establish a law school. Why? They found TWU a supportive environment with high academic standards. In the end, isn’t academic standard the basis on which any university is to be assessed?

And religion? If the reasoning in my above words seems logical to you, you should know that I believe in the Creator God who made me, His Son who died on a blood stained cross and left behind an empty tomb, and His Holy Spirit who sustains me and informs my thinking. My thinking isn’t crippled by my religious beliefs, it is established in them; as is the thinking of three quarters of Canadians according to Statistics Canada.

I do not belittle anyone who chooses to believe in a universe or human life created by accident (or a series of accidents) or reason based solely on their personal belief in human intelligence. After all, the freedom to believe in God or to believe only in oneself is a cornerstone of the Canadian democracy, recognized and enshrined in our Constitution.

Article originally appeared on Activate CFPL (http://activatecfpl.theefc.ca/).
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