Disapointed: EFC and others weigh in
by Jack Taylor
David Guretzki, representing the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as their Executive Vice President, used that one word to sum up his response to the Supreme Court decision. The McGill-educated theologian, formerly of Briercrest College and Seminary, concedes that the nine justices faced a complex decision as evidenced in the four streams of thought they presented in their 250 pages of findings.
“It’s good that the justices recognized the importance of religious freedom. They all realized it was a protected right even if they overrode it.”
Janet Epp Buckingham, a TWU professor, also expressed disappointment in seeing the setback to a 25-year dream of hers. “We feel this is a loss of diversity in Canada.” Options going forward will be considered and perhaps even lifting the mandatory covenant may be on the table.
Guretzki is troubled that the overriding of religious freedom was considered “of minor significance” by the majority opinion. He believes that there is a lot of mining to do in the ruling. The unique decision to defer final decisions regarding law schools to the law societies, when the public interest is in view, adds an additional layer of confusion. “Now we have legal societies who are at arm’s length, unelected and unappointed by the judiciary, being given significant powers to determine whether the university has a program which is in the public interest.”
The EFC spokesman was also troubled that the decision is viewed as necessary to “protect diversity but it is actually narrowing the group of those who can start a law school.” He agrees with National Post journalist Chris Selley who noted that “the implications of the ruling are potentially massive.”
Both note that Supreme Court justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in her concurrence that “Canada has a tradition dating back at least four centuries of religious schools which are established to allow people to study at institutions that reflect their faith and their practices.” Public support has been an accepted reality of those educational centers.
Guretzki understands that the courts work to balance rights and freedoms but there is a trend to allow charter values to infringe on charter rights. He sees it as a credit to the court that the justices unanimously recognized they were infringing on religious rights. He also says that it is positive in that the ruling is relatively narrow in its scope regarding the law society. “Our concern is that the first line of danger is to those who are regulated by professional societies… It is difficult to know how the case will be used. The professional society is being given the statutory responsibility to make the decision.” Guretzki says that the Supreme Court “bought the argument that law is special” and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the nursing or educational society will have this same right.
Lorna Dueck, host of Context TV, writes, “It’s a result that has been disquieting to both sides representing the court as it pitted two important societal values against each other: the freedom of religion and the promotion of equality. This is the messy, imperfect work of living with personal beliefs and convictions that must fit the Charter Rights and Freedoms that shapes Canada.” She sees the clear decision as saying that in Canada “sexual identity trumps religious identity.”
Dueck says this ruling forces us to confront our isolationist tendencies. “The ruling challenges us that to fully communicate the love of God for people, no signature is required. Will the values faith communities create and abide by change if participation is voluntary, rather than signed? Signed codes of conduct exist for a wide array of public institutions and schools in Canada, and that’s why this one was worth fighting for on the grounds of fairness.”
Guretzki acknowledges that it is difficult to see how this decision will play out. “It is an abstract win at best for the LGBTQ community. There are no new spots for law students. There is no new legal emphasis. It doesn’t change anything on the ground. We see the courts recognize the difference between a place of worship and an educational institution.”
The dissenting opinion of Justices Cote and Brown will long be cited when they wrote “the decision not to accredit TWU’s proposed law school is a profound interference with the TWU community’s freedom of religion… The unequal access resulting from the Covenant is a function not of condonation of discrimination, but of accommodating religious freedom. Only a decision to accredit TWU’s proposed law school would reflect a proportionate balancing of charter rights and the statutory objectives which the LSUC sought to pursue.”
Four things should be noted from this ruling: The Court has taken another step toward giving up its religious neutrality; The Court recognizes that religious rights have been infringed but see this as minor; The Charter has indeed been turned from a shield into a sword; The Court understands that the Charter is designed to apply strictly to government (not to private institutions or individuals) but “amorphous, undefined charter values are being appealed to with greater regularity.”
With Job (29:1), we can long for the time gone by when God’s presence, power and favour seemed so clear. In reality, none of that has changed. Our privilege of loving God and loving our neighbours continues even in the midst of our disappointment.