We, as a society, have come a long way when it comes to protecting our citizens from discrimination. Earlier this year, Quebec's proposed ban on religious symbols was squashed, and just recently, an NBA team owner was banned from the association for life and fined $2.5 million for making racist comments.
We truly have come a long way, especially considering where we came from. Prominent Canadian universities used to impose strict quotas on Jewish students in the 1930s and '40s, and many law schools and medical schools would require higher marks from Jewish students. Some law firms and hospitals would simply deny their applications. Until the 1960s, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto was denied status as a teaching hospital.
Intolerance is now widely condemned in North America. But, there is an exception. It has come to light, yet again, that bigoted, ignorant and discriminatory attitudes toward Christians are accepted, and even politically correct, in Canada. Recently, Ontario and Nova Scotia's Law Societies pre-emptively rejected future graduates of Trinity Western University's law school, all because the school's "covenant agreement," or code of conduct, does not accept the act of sex outside the traditional definition of marriage.
The school does not prohibit gay students, or even non-Christians, from enrolling, and the rule also extends to unmarried heterosexual couples. Critics are claiming the school's covenant, which is in line with its Christian values, is discriminatory.
The unabashed hypocrisy from those claiming discrimination is profound.
This is not the first time the school has been challenged for its religious values. In 2001, the B.C. College of Teachers was trying to deny accreditation of Trinity Western's teaching degree because the school insisted upon the same covenant from its students. The court ruled in favour of TWU, because: "For better or worse, tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of a democratic society."
Tony Wilson, an atheist bencher of the B.C. Law Society, voted for Trinity Western University because of his belief in upholding the rule of law, stating: "We cannot cherry-pick the laws we like from the ones we don't."
Some who have voted against the university have suggested one cannot properly teach ethics at a faith-based institution. Does this mean lawyers of faith are not qualified to teach ethics at non-Christian universities because of their beliefs?
Other critics have suggested the school would create intolerant lawyers who would discriminate against gays and lesbians, despite no difference in the school's curriculum.
Should the nearly 70 per cent of Canadians who identify as Christian also be considered unfit to practise law in Canada? Perhaps a stronger argument would be the ethical standards of atheists, or lawyers with no religious affiliation, do not align with those of the majority of Canadians. This type of discrimination would be laughed at in today's society, and rightfully so.
What about the students who have graduated from Trinity Western as undergrads and attended other law schools? Have they, too, been so tainted by Christian orthodoxy they are unfit to practise law? We have lawyers practising in Canada who have graduated from faith-based law schools in the United States. Should we now strip them of their licences?
We have taken certain groups in our society and empowered them at the expense of others. We are now at a place where it is popular to criticize Christians and mock their beliefs and values, while most other prominent religions, carrying a similar set of values, are celebrated for their differences and their contribution to a diverse society. I cannot help but think if the school were Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic or any other non-Christian religion, their code of conduct would be a non-issue.
I recently received a letter from a Canadian professor criticizing me for speaking out against a bill we are currently studying in the Senate. The letter did not comment on the validity of the arguments supporting my position, but rather pointed out the "baggage" I carry that makes me ignorant, uninformed and unenlightened. The letter states: "You, sir, are a highly assimilated, unilingual, unhyphenated, Canadian born and bred, WHITE, ANGLO-SAXON, CHRISTIAN MALE." These terms, in and of themselves, were to be taken as insults. And, I suppose the terms in caps represented the most offensive aspects of my being.
I could not help but think, if any of these terms were swapped out for another variable, this would be deemed bigoted and intolerant. However, her comments clearly identified for me, in specific terms, which groups in Canadian society the elites have deemed appropriate to prejudice and discriminate against, namely: males, unilingual anglophones, non-immigrants, Caucasians, and yes, Christians.
Whether or not it is "popular" or politically correct to be Christian in 2014, Trinity Western University is still protected by something called the rule of law. When we have a very clear ruling from the nearly identical leading case on this issue from the Supreme Court, precedent needs to be followed. And also, I tend to believe our chartered right to freedom of religion should include Christians.
I hope Trinity Western University will take this to the Supreme Court, so the court can once again rule against discrimination and in favour of democracy.
Donald Plett is a Manitoba senator.