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Putting TWU in context

Voices June 28, 2018

Image from an Evangelical Fellowship of Canada webinar on Facebook entitled Unpacking The TWU Supreme Court Of Canada Decision. From left are Albertos Polizogopoulos, host Karen Stiller, Justin Cooper, and Bruce Clemenger. 

After experiencing some disappointment, it’s always good to allow a little time for context to sink in.

Last week, thanks to our 24-hour news environment, we were wringing our hands over the Supreme Court’s decision on Trinity Western University.

This week it was good to hear a few words of reason from some of the principals involved with the case. In a webinar broadcast on Facebook by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Ottawa-based lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, EFC president Bruce Clemenger, and Justin Cooper of Christian Higher Education Canada discussed the implications of the ruling.

In short, they said the decision was disappointing and bad news for people of faith, but didn’t mark the end of religious freedom in Canada. The court simply found the law societies acted “reasonably” when they decided not to accredit graduates of the proposed law school.

Polizogopoulos pointed out “reasonable” is a legal term, and many possible decisions could fall within that description. Other provinces chose to accredit TWU, and presumably their decisions would be reasonable as well.

In that sense, the Supreme Court decision could be seen as pertaining to one narrow set of circumstances: whether two law societies were free to reject TWU grads on the basis of the school’s community covenant.

Considering the justices a week earlier had released a decision supporting religious freedoms and the inappropriateness of the court involving itself in religious dogma, perhaps the TWU decision can be seen as disconcerting but not apocalyptic as it pertains to charter rights of religion and conscience.

That said, we can take a page from those we disagree with – the activists who over the last few decades have succeeded in making abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia political realities in Canada.

As Polizogopoulos said, all of the major cultural battles in Canada in recent decades were won through “an aggressive campaign of litigation rather than by the promptings of legislation.”

Abortion, same-sex marriage, prostitution, euthanasia, and to some extent marijuana, have been propagated by people “actively advancing their policy goals and interests,” while the Christian community has stood idly by or compromised. The result, said Polizogopoulos: we’re “playing catch-up.”

Clemenger also pointed out it’s important to keep in context what the courts actually said in those decisions. They may have paved the way to societal change, but they didn’t go as far as many people suggest they did.

On abortion, for example, the court never said there was a positive right to abortion, a fact brought to the forefront thanks to the Canada Summer Jobs controversy.

On same-sex marriage, the court avoided the question of whether the constitution requires the redefinition of marriage.

On euthanasia, the court only said it could be decriminalized in certain circumstances.

And in the TWU case, the court did not rule against TWU having a law school, nor did it say it couldn’t have a community covenant.

For the panellists, the Summer Jobs controversy is in some ways a more serious threat than TWU, which is why religious and non-religious interests are challenging the jobs policy in court.

Unlike TWU, the summer jobs tempest is a result of a government requiring applicants for public program funds to profess certain values that have nothing to do with the funds’ intended use.

Clemenger called it “almost Trinity Western in reverse” since government is in a sense establishing a community covenant and requiring applicants to attest to it to apply for public funds.

Polizogopoulos agrees the Summer Jobs issue is a more immediate concern than TWU, since its implications are vast. If government can force an organization to attest to a moral or religious view to qualify for a program, why couldn’t it impose similar requirements to qualify for charitable tax status?

The panellists agree there needs to be a proportionate and prayerful response from people of faith, but “strategic litigation” on issues like the Canada Summer Jobs controversy is also called for.

Part of being faithful, said Polizogopoulos, is “not only saying what we believe, and living in accordance to what we believe, but defending what we believe.”

Referencing Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the temple, “we need to start flipping tables.”

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