The CCRL Appears Before the Supreme Court of Canada In Trinity Western Religious Freedom Case

OTTAWA, ON December 1, 2017 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) presented oral arguments today before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) as interveners in the Trinity Western University (TWU) Law School case. The SCC’s decision in this case, which will likely be known in the spring of 2018 is already being considered the most important high court decision pertaining to religious freedom in the past half century.

The case largely concerns TWU’s institutional religious freedom and decisions by the provincial law societies in Ontario and British Columbia that have voted not to accredit future TWU law school graduates.

The point of contention is the TWU Community Covenant, which requires that students commit themselves to a set of behaviours, including a shared understanding that sexual relations be reserved to a man and woman within the confines of a biblical understanding of marriage.

The CCRL and Faith and Freedom Alliance (FFA), in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Vancouver, have submitted on the importance of, and recognition of, authentic pluralism, meaning that Canadian law and society is comprised of differing viewpoints, and dissentient views should not be excluded from participation in the public square.

  • The law encourages respect for a diversity of views. Authentic pluralism allows for religion to share space with competing views in the public sphere.
  • The state decision-maker’s role is an essentially neutral intermediary, neither favouring nor hindering any particular religious belief or belief about religion.
  • Freedom of religion protects collective and group rights. Religious corporations, including educational and health-care institutions, further a religious way of life that should not be infringed without demonstrable justification.
  • A narrow view of secularism and the scope of religious freedom threatens opportunities for the participation of religious institutions in public life, and threatens our pluralistic society.
  • A contextual, proportional, coherent and flexible approach must be taken to avoid true conflict between claims for equality rights and society’s interest in promoting meaningful religious pluralism.

The CCRL’s president Phil Horgan has been in Ottawa for the two days of oral arguments from interveners. Horgan states:

The concerns raised by parties many years ago on the impact that same sex marriage would have on religious rights are coming to fruition.

We have warned in the past that the position the court will take on Trinity Western will have serious implications on provincial education rights, the position of Catholic or private schools, or the status of religious charities.

And while the law societies downplayed such concerns, it was made explicit in the submissions of counsel for the Canadian Bar Association that the “logical implication” of refusing accreditation of TWU was that religious charities would soon face future pressures to abandon religious positions in favour of the demands of gender, gay, lesbian, or trans activists, in order to retain the benefit of charitable status.

The message was clear.  Religious viewpoints must get in line, or face reduced access to public benefits.

Our system recognizes differences of views, rather than imposing a majoritarian viewpoint when it comes to religion or religious institutions in the public square. The approach by the state actors in this case, being the Law Societies in Ontario and British Columbia, to deny accreditation of the proposed Trinity Western law school, or its future graduates, represents a denial of dissentient religious viewpoints.

That majoritarian, or civic totalist approach, is quite illiberal in its application.

Trinity Western is entitled to maintain its religious views, including its position on a biblical understanding of marriage. That view is shared by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Are Catholic lawyers to be denied accreditation? Are Catholics going to be denied entry into professions for having such views?

The implications for Catholics and Catholic institutions such as education and healthcare are tremendous. We must not be compelled to have our teachings suppressed as a requirement for participation in the public square.


About the CCRL

Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

For further information:

Christian Domenic Elia, PhD
CCRL Executive Director
416-466-8244
@CCRLtweets