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Photo/Flickr via Tim Evanson (CC BY 2.0)

This judge gets it

  • February 5, 2015

Advocates of religious freedom scored a big win on Jan. 28 when a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge bluntly told that province’s law society to stop trying to impose its morality on a private Christian university.

In a ruling in support of tolerance and common sense, Justice Jamie S. Campbell said that Nova Scotia’s law society exceeded its authority by barring Trinity Western University graduates unless the B.C. school stopped requiring students to abstain from sex outside of marriage. In particular, the law society objected to a code of conduct that prohibits “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The Christian university has faced wide criticism and unfair sanctions due to its faith-based opposition to same-sex unions. The law societies of Ontario and British Columbia, like Nova Scotia, have declared TWU grads persona non-grata, claiming the university discriminates and is therefore ill suited to train lawyers. Campbell’s ruling, however, more or less branded those claims as nonsense.

“People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct,” he wrote. “That is the case even if the effect of that code is to exclude others or offend others who will not or cannot comply with the code of conduct. Learning in an environment with people who promise to comply with the code is a religious practice and an expression of religious faith. There is nothing illegal or even rogue about that.”

Indeed, freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is difficult to fathom how so many lawyers fail to grasp that basic Canadian principle. As the judge wrote, many people seem wrongly to believe that equality rights have “jumped the queue to now trump religious freedom.” That attitude is becoming increasingly and regrettably pervasive as society becomes more secular and less tolerant of those who live faith-based lives.

So kudos to the judge for scolding Nova Scotia’s law society and offering an important reminder of what tolerance really means. It’s not about imposing popular morality on a minority. It’s about according dignity and respect to people of all beliefs and backgrounds. Even if some religious beliefs are unpopular, Campbell said they are protected by law and therefore have not only a right to exist but to flourish.

“The Charter is not a blueprint for moral conformity,” Campbell wrote. “Its purpose is to protect the citizen from the power of the state, not to enforce compliance by citizens or private institutions with the moral judgments of the state.”

The judge clearly gets it. His 137-page decision was a resounding defence of tolerance and religious freedom. It was vindication of Trinity Western and a victory for society at large.

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