Whose Covenant Counts?

Little more than a year ago, in mid-December 2013, the provincial government of British Columbia approved plans to establish a law school at Trinity Western University in the Fraser Valley.

In the spring of this year a group of lawyers in the province moved a motion to bar graduates from the yet to be established faculty of law on the grounds Trinity Western discriminated against students who shared same sex relationships. When the motion was presented to the BC Law Society benchers last April it was rejected by a vote of 20-6, but that wasn’t the end of the matter.

Law Society members affronted by TWU’s stand on gay relationships pushed for another vote, one that would include more than the governing Benchers. All 13,530 members were invited to participate and some 74 per cent of the membership voted to reverse the April decision. The Law Society of BC had decided “the proposed law school at Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law for the purpose of the Law Societies admission program.”

In simple terms that meant Trinity Western could establish a faculty of law – but its graduates would not be eligible to practice in BC – or in Ontario and Nova Scotia where similar law society decisions have been made.

At the root of the problem is Trinity Western’s “Community Covenant Agreement – Our Pledge to One Another.” It is a covenant all students and staff are required to sign before they can enroll as students or be hired as  staff. And its standards are high, heavy on Christian bible moral standards as interpreted by TWU’s board of governors who express their beliefs and ethical codes in easy to understand, if hard to accept, language.

“This covenant both identifies particular Christian standards and recognizes degrees of latitude for individual freedom. True freedom is not the freedom to do as one pleases, but rather empowerment to do what is best.”

Those who sign the Covenant pledge “to abstain from gossip, slander, vulgar/obscene language, prejudice, harassment or any form of verbal or physical intimidation, lying, cheating or other forms of dishonesty….” There are cautions about problems with over consumption of alcohol and a pledge to keep the Campus tobacco smoke free.

And wedged among the “do not’s” is the abstention lawyers across Canada feel they must challenge. TWU students – and faculty – must o abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of a marriage between a man and a woman.”

Oh dear, oh dear, are governors, faculty, staff and students at TWU being told by various Law Societies to believe that of all the things listed as worthy of abstention, only the one on sexual preferences and choices, discreet or indiscreet, makes them incapable of practicing good law?

I wonder how many Trinity Western critics belong to religious organizations which condemn same sex relationships. I wonder how many BC lawyers voted to deny the right to practice law in BC to TWU graduates, while clinging firmly to their own Roman Catholic faith which does not recognize gay marriage, and still has difficulty fully accepting divorced couples back into the church.  Did they think the TWU mandate “to observe modesty, purity and appropriate intimacy in all relationships (and) reserve sexual expressions of intimacy for marriage…and exercise careful judgment in all lifestyle choices” might impair their legal advice?

I wonder how those same critics view the army of Nuns who work around the world as educators, nurses, doctors, and lawyers while clinging to the religious covenant they have sworn to uphold, and strive to keep.

And just for the record I am not in any way associated with Trinity Western. Don’t know any staff or student and am far too long a sinner to ever sign their mandate. I just wanted to point out that the law can sometime be “an ass.” Or as Lord Macaulay once said (He was British politician who died in 1859 so won’t object to me modestly misquoting him) “I know no spectacle as ridiculous as the legal fraternity in one of its periodical fits of morality.”

5 comments

  1. Good point Jim. Until I read this I had considered Trinity Western University the villain of the piece. Your perspective has forced me to revise mine.

  2. I’m not good at comments so feel free to correct any mistakes. Didn’t Pierre Trudeau say the state should stay out of the bedroom? That should be extended to all of us staying out of others bedrooms in consensual situations. (Not urge of the word *state).

  3. As I understand it, TWU students must sign that pledge. But no where in that pledge do I read that a TWU student cannot be friends with those who will/can not sign the pledge. Does TWU train accountants? Does that mean the accountants must restrict their clientele. How about other professions? It is very confusing why the Law Societies are so against TWU.

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