Trinity Western University’s (TWU) plans for a Christian law school have polarized opinions in the legal and academic communities in BC and across Canada.
In order to go beyond the press releases and opinion pieces, Today Media asked Bob Kuhn, President of TWU to help us understand the issue from the University’s point of view.
Cover photo: Bob Kuhn was photographed by James Moes for the 50th anniversary edition of Trinity Western Magazine
Today Media: Trinity Western University is taking a pounding from significant sectors of the legal community in BC and across the country for its plan to open a law school. The opposition centers on your school’s Community Covenant which requires that students commit to what TWU defines as a Christian way of life in sexual matters. How do you respond to the opposition?
We live in a pluralistic society where tolerance is a two-way street. The real question here is, “does TWU have a right to retain the historical Christian definition of marriage (as being between a man and woman), or does the University have to adopt the societal definition and forgo its religious freedom?”. The law in Canada permits and protects religious views. Sexual orientation does not trump the rights of others. TWU’s law school has been approved by the objective, thorough, and professional authorities, including the Ministry of Events Education, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Law Society of British Columbia. All of these entities took into account the arguments of the opposition. Simply put, the opposition insists that the TWU community either abandon its religious views of marriage or forgo its right to have a law school. That is not tolerance.
TM: Is it your position that TWU is exempt from Canada’ anti-discrimination statutes and Charter guarantees because it is considered a private school and is protected under our guarantees of religious freedom?
Canadian human rights law protects private religious organizations in recognition that such organizations could not exist unless they were permitted to define their community and operate in accordance with their religious convictions. The Charter specifically protects religious freedom. If there is conflict between rights and freedoms, it can be resolved based on legal principles set out in the Charter. TWU and its Community Covenant was specifically tested in the Supreme Court of Canada decision (2001) and found entirely acceptable and valid pursuant to human rights legislation and the Charter.
TM: If a student enrols at TWU and conforms to the Covenant but discovers, faces, decides or realizes they are gay, and that student is honest and open about his or her situation, does that student face expulsion?
No, TWU has openly gay and lesbian students who still agree to comply with Community Covenant in the same way as heterosexual students.
TM: Do you understand that some will feel there is a conflict when a school is asking for accreditation by legal bodies and government institutions when many people would argue that part of what TWU stands for goes against the law of the land?
TWU operates completely within the law, as was found in the Supreme Court of Canada decision (2001) involving the University and the BC College of Teachers. Trinity Western has been graduating excellent teachers, nurses, business professionals and others for many years. Trinity Western’s law school is accredited. Some don’t like the decisions that have been made. They seek to deprive the students of TWU of their rights to be educated giving regard to Christian principles. In essence, those opposed wish to discriminate against TWU and its students and threaten to refuse full participation in our pluralistic society (unless, of course, they agree with the opinions of those who disagree).
TM: What would a Trinity Western Law School teach its students about Canada’s laws on discrimination, and the constitutional rights of gays or those who engage in sexual lifestyles which TWU defines as unacceptable? Would it not be in a position of having to teach that the school does not abide by the law and the constitution?
TWU will teach the same legal principles in relation to constitutional and human rights law as with any other law school. An important part of that law deals with religious freedom. TWU operates, teaches and exists entirely within the law.
TM: Has this whole debate damaged the school’s reputation? Has it made it difficult for the school to attract financial support, students, funding?
No. If anything, it has raised the importance of defending religious freedom as a cornerstone of our society. TWU has a reputation for educational excellence, as measured by external bodies. The University maintains an environment and culture where rigorous scholarship, critical thinking and a caring community merge to form the best learning experience. Its graduates are in demand as having developed both competence and character.
TM: What is TWU’s purpose in creating a law school which critics argue is fundamentally going to teach a Christian view of the law? Is this not consistent with, for example, a law school teaching Sharia law?
TWU’s law school will teach all of the basic legal principles necessary for an excellent legal education. In addition, there will be special emphasis on servant leadership, helping those who can make their way in this legalistic society in which we live. It will focus on small business, entrepreneurial, and not-for-profit enterprise, as well as recognizing the place of a Christian worldview in our society and in our laws.
TM: Is there anything we should have asked which I haven’t asked you or which has not been covered in this question and answer format?
TWU is a University with a stellar history, an extraordinary faculty, staff and student body, and a bright future as the premier Christian University in Canada. Whether in the classroom or in sports, community involvement or global impact, Trinity Western punches way above its weight. Though small, value-based and privately funded, it does not deserve harsh, derogatory treatment it has received at the hands of those who would seek to erase its 50 years of constructive contribution to society, both locally and around the world.