Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 4, 2001
Court backs Christian college
Ruling a victory for freedom of religion says CCCB
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — The Canadian bishops have welcomed the 8-1 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Trinity Western University case, calling it a "strong affirmation" of freedom of religion.
The ruling is also a "much needed reminder that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and public freedom that is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, after the court handed down its ruling May 17.
Vancouver archdiocesan chancellor Msgr. Gregory Smith said the Catholic community, which supported TWU's long and costly battle with prayers and legal assistance, joins its fellow Christians in gratitude for the decision.
The decision also demonstrates that the law will "protect people of faith from unreasoning prejudice," Smith said.
The five-year legal battle between TWU, a privately funded evangelical Christian university in Langley, and the British Columbia College of Teachers centred on the university's requirement that students refrain from extramarital sex, including homosexual behaviour.
The college of teachers turned down TWU's application for provincial certification of its education program in 1996, saying its ban discriminated against homosexuals. But two lower courts ruled in favour of the Christian university and the BCCT appealed to the Supreme Court.
The court dismissed the appeal, however, stating, "This is a question of law that is concerned with human rights and not essentially educational matters."
The majority decision also said the public dimension of religious freedom and the right to determine one's moral conduct have been recognized "long before the advent of the charter and have been considered to be legal issues."
William Sammon, the bishops' lawyer in their intervention in the Supreme Court's hearing of the appeal, said the court's ruling "underlines the fact that we've got freedom of religion in Canada and that it's a charter-protected right."
"This is not about gay rights at all," he said. "This decision is really about religious freedom and the right to hold religious views."
The ruling means that Catholic education students as well as those at TWU can continue to enter into the public arena "without fear that they're going to be discriminated against because they've been taught in a religious environment," he said.
"It reinforces the law as it stands that religious institutions like separate schools have the right to hire Catholic teachers and to ensure that those teachers abide by the religious and moral views of the separate schools."
Trinity Western's executive vice president agreed that the ruling benefits more than just his university. "This decision protects the principles of liberty and respect as fundamental Canadian values," said Dr. Guy Saffold.
The decision also affirms that "in our multicultural and multifaith society, people cannot be arbitrarily penalized or barred from participating in public life simply because they hold religious views," said Saffold.
Other Canadian Church groups and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also supported TWU in interventions before the court but the national gay rights organization, EGALE Canada, backed the college's decision.
The executive director of Redeemer Pacific College, the Catholic college partnered with Trinity Western, was grateful that the prayers of faculty and staff had been answered.
Tom Hamel said the decision will allow Redeemer students to take their full five years of training as elementary school teachers in "an atmosphere of faith" at the two schools.
"The court's decision also allows Redeemer Pacific College to fulfill the mandate that Archbishop (Adam) Exner has given it for the training of faith-filled Catholic teachers for the Catholic schools of the archdiocese," said Hamel.
Redeemer courses in religious studies, philosophy, English, history and communications count towards all TWU degree programs, including education.
As with earlier court rulings, the Supreme Court said there was no proof that TWU's graduates had ever discriminated against minorities in the classroom.
The court also rejected the requirement that TWU students seeking their teaching certificate were required by the teachers college to complete their fifth and final year of studies at Simon Fraser University.
Trinity Western plans to move ahead now with implementation of the teacher certification year to begin in fall of 2002.
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