TWU’s Board of Governors decided on Thursday, August 9, that its Community Covenant would no longer be mandatory. This is a dramatic turnabout given the long legal history of the Covenant. In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled that the BC College of Teachers’ opposition to the Covenant was against the TWU Community’s Charter right to religious freedom. In 2018, the SCC ignored its 2001 decision and held that the Law Societies of BC and Ontario were authorized to deny TWU’s law school accreditation because of the mandatory nature of the Community Covenant. The SCC deferred to the Societies’ judgement of what was the best decision in the “public interest” (as the Societies defined it). And, since the Covenant discriminated, (even though such discrimination was lawful – in keeping with a religiously diverse society) the Societies were entitled to apply “Charter values” to the situation and rule against TWU. As I have argued on this blog, the SCC betrayed the Charter promise of religious freedom by those decisions.
TWU’s Community Covenant outlined the responsibilities of the faculty and students. The opposition to the Covenant was due to the requirement that sexual relations not violate the sacredness of marriage. Marriage was defined as one man, one woman, for life. The law societies denied the law school accreditation on the basis that the mandatory Covenant discriminated against the LGBTQ+ community. Ultimately the SCC agreed with the law societies – despite the Charter protections of religious accommodation and its 2001 decision.
TWU’s Board of Governors passed the following motion:
“In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”
President Bob Kuhn, in an email letter released today, stated that further work will be had with “the University constituencies to determine ways in which our Christian identity, Mission and ministry can continue to be strengthened, communicated and better lived-out in the context of the TWU community – while simultaneously welcoming and affirming the value of each member of our student body.”
He also emphasized the following:
“Let there be no confusion regarding the Board of Governors’ resolution; our Mission remains the same. We will remain a Biblically-based, mission-focused, academically excellent University, fully committed to our foundational evangelical Christian principles. We will continue to be a Christ-centred community; one that is defined by our shared pursuit of seeking to glorify God by revealing His truth, compassion, reconciliation and hope to a world in need.”
I, for one, hope that TWU will renew its law school proposal. It has now addressed the one issue that the Supreme Court of Canada said was problematic – the mandatory nature of the Covenant. With it now being a voluntary Covenant, the law societies need to step back and allow TWU to do what it has always done: provide a first-rate university education. If TWU does apply again, the legal community will have another opportunity to allow within its circle a Christian university involved in legal education. This time, one can only hope that the reception is a lot warmer. The 2001 SCC stated, “The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.”
Let’s see what happens next…