Mark Penninga, Vancouver Sun, June 12, 2014: A strong majority of the B.C. lawyers who voted Wednesday made it clear Trinity Western University’s law school grads should not be recognized by the Law Society of B.C. because of the school’s Community Covenant.
This vote should make our province pause and consider what this means for the broader institution of law and order. If pledging to uphold a Christian understanding of sexuality or marriage makes one unworthy of practicing law, then all lawyers should be unworthy of practicing law because they have also bound themselves to a community covenant which is based on religious convictions and principles.
To practice law, lawyers must take the barristers and solicitors’ oath. In British Columbia, they swear to diligently, faithfully, and to the best of their ability “uphold the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of all persons according to the laws of Canada and the province of British Columbia.”
The lawyers’ community standards are far more strictly confirmed than Trinity Western’s. As an alumni of TWU, I can assure you I was never called upon to dress up, appear before a judge in an open court, raise my hand and swear to uphold their covenant.
The same B.C. lawyers who voted against the Trinity Western Law School have all taken an oath based on principles that come straight from the Christian religion. Before you object, please understand that the Criminal Code, our Constitution, and the concept of the “rule of law,” all flow in a large part from a Judeo-Christian legal tradition. It is no coincidence they emerged in the Christian West, going back beyond the Magna Carta of 1215. For example, the idea that all citizens are equal under the law isn’t something the Law Society of B.C. dreamed up. It ultimately flows from beliefs about human nature and a higher law and law-giver to which we are all bound. That is why the one-line preamble to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms notes that “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” These rights come from someone, and it sure is not our lawyers.
Law students can go through their entire legal education without learning about the foundations of law, what grounds our laws and the rights that we hold so dear. Jurisprudence, the theory of law, has been forgotten. As a result, many of the lawyers who form the legal system in secular Canada now believe they make and interpret the law.
The thinking is: “Who cares if the Supreme Court already looked at the TWU covenant. That was 13 years ago. Times have changed and we feel differently today.”
The difference between a Christian understanding of law, and the new secular version we are seeing with this vote, is that the Christian tradition recognizes freedom while the secular version requires strict conformity to its narrow-minded views of morality. Religious freedom in the West does not just apply to Christians. Canada is home to so many other faiths because we have been a beacon in the world when it comes to religious liberty. Contrast that with this new secularism, where religious freedom is being marginalized more every day.
As just one example, the definition of marriage was changed in 2005 to legalize same-sex marriage.
What was considered binding by the law only nine years ago now makes one unfit for practicing law, at least according to 77 per cent of the lawyers who voted this week. What’s more, the 2005 Civil Marriage Act went so far as to say “nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs.” The law of the land means little if lawyers and judges think they are above it.
The citizens of this province, indeed the entire country, need to wake up to this reality and demand an answer to this central question: Just what does religious freedom mean to B.C. lawyers? Their vote tells me we only have the freedom to believe what they do.
Mark Penninga is the executive director of the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada which, among other things, brings a Christian perspective to the Supreme Court of Canada through legal interventions.