Religous Freedom in Canada

The President of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, Steve Jones, sent this email out earlier this week. I am posting it in its entirety as both warning and example. We have lost so much, and there is more that we are in danger of losing. But let's not lose by default. Stand up!

Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,

Steve here… Last week, I noted that 63% of our Federal MPs are newly elected, with 84% of Liberal MPs brand new. It has been over 20 years since so many rookies were sitting in the legislature.

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1195156/images/o-JUSTIN-TRUDEAU-SPEAKING-FEES-facebook.jpgOne could be a bit nervous with so many new and inexperienced politicians at the helm. Or we could look at this as an opportune time to pray and seek to influence these many fresh-faced MPs. Our new Prime Minister has promised a more open and transparent Parliament with many more “free” votes. Meaning, our MPs get to vote their conscience, not their Party’s official stand on current significant issues such as assisted suicide/euthanasia, decriminalizing marijuana, prostitution and religious freedom.

Last week I gave an update on the current assisted suicide/euthanasia debate. Today I want to update you on religious freedom in Canada.

Religious Freedom at Home

https://www.twu.ca/news/2014/016-fourth-president-full.jpgSeven weeks ago (December 12), I received news from Trinity Western University’s (TWU) President, Bob Kuhn, that

“The BC Supreme Court has just ruled to quash the BC Law Society’s decision and restored the result of their vote on April 11, 2014, which was to recognize the qualifications of TWU Law graduates. As you know, it is vital that we protect our right to maintain an authentic community of faith and learning, free to express our Christian identity through our Community Covenant. The fact is that TWU, for itself and other people of faith, is an important part of Canada’s diversity — the freedom to follow one’s conscience and religious convictions is one of the greatest blessings our country has given us. Moving forward, we’ll wait to see how the BC Law Society responds to today’s decision, as well as prepare for the appeal processes in both Ontario and Nova Scotia in the Spring of 2016. Please pray for God’s hand to guide us.”

Bob’s reference to Ontario and Nova Scotia is the recent loss in Ontario and win in Nova Scotia against their provincial Law Societies seeking to ban future TWU Law graduates practicing in their provinces. Justice Campbell of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (January 2015) handed a comprehensive judgement (139 pages) strongly in favour of TWU and establishing TWU’s right to retain a place in our pluralistic society without discrimination. Ontario’s judgement was not so favourable and is being appealed.

This is a critical issue in our nation which all thinking Christians need to be concerned about. Although we live in a pluralistic society, all beliefs and values do not seem to receive equal weight. There is no denying this even after just a cursory read of our media.

Trinity Western’s battle is all of our battle. Let’s make no mistake about it: this is a religious freedom debate that must be won or our nation will be poorer for it. Please pray with me for the appeal cases TWU will undertake in the spring of 2016 in Ontario and Nova Scotia and later in BC with the BC Law Society appealing the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of BC (appeal filed January 5, 2016).

At a recent gathering of evangelical Denomination Leaders in Winnipeg, I heard that TWU is expecting five more years of legal fighting at a cost of more than $3 million dollars. At issue is a faith community’s right to self-define as a Faith Community. Their opponents are much better organized than 15 years ago when they lost their fight (2001) to ban TWU teacher candidates from teaching in our schools. And they are clearly not interested in a reasonable compromise. They want “evangelical bigotry” erased from society. Join me in praying for TWU as they continue this legal dialogue on behalf of all Canadian evangelicals. They need our financial support too as they continue the legal challenges.

RECENT RULING in BC: The FACTS (from EFC email)

The BC Supreme Court ruled in favour of Trinity Western University (TWU) in its legal challenge against the Law Society of British Columbia.

Chief Justice Hinkson ruled that the Law Society of BC had not adequately considered the religious freedom Charter rights of TWU and its students.

“We welcome the outcome of the decision and the court’s recognition that the Law Society’s refusal to recognize future TWU law graduates’ degrees ‘conclusively… infringe(s) (their) right to freedom of religion’,” says Bruce Clemenger, President of Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Lawyer Geoffrey Trotter of Vancouver, who served as co-counsel to the EFC, explains: “The court ruled that the benchers denied TWU the opportunity to present its case during their deliberations and to have its submissions fairly and fully considered, and that the benchers wrongly bound themselves to a referendum of all BC lawyers in which there was no evidence that the voting members gave any consideration to the Charter rights of TWU and its students.”

In light of today’s ruling, the EFC calls upon the provincial government to re-approve the TWU law degree program so that the school can open as soon as possible.

Facts:

·         TWU, a private Christian liberal arts university with six professional schools, won approval from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in December 2013 which represented the provisional approval of the Law Society of BC (LSBC) as well. As a result, the BC government approved the law degree program two days later.
·         In April 2014 the LSBC benchers (directors) considered a motion to not recognize TWU’s law school and the motion was defeated, thus confirming TWU’s law accreditation.
·         In June 2014 a special general meeting requisitioned by LSBC members was held to reconsider TWU’s law school and a resolution not to recognize TWU’s law school passed. The benchers then put the matter to a referendum of all BC lawyers, promising to implement the results of the vote.
·         In October 2014, based on the referendum results, the benchers reversed themselves and banned future TWU law graduates from admission to the law society. As a result, the BC government subsequently revoked its approval for the law degree as well.
·         TWU’s legal challenge to the LSBC decision was heard in the BC Supreme Court in August 2015, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Christian Higher Education Canada jointly intervened in support of robust religious freedom guarantees for minorities including through respecting voluntary Statements of Faith and Conduct, and a robust pluralism requiring the State to respect religious difference and not to restrict access to professions based on minority religious beliefs or affiliations.
·         The LSBC filed an Appeal on January 5, 2016.


READ if you want more Information

I recently sat down with one of TWU’s esteemed professors and asked him to comment on the current issue. We chatted and he followed up with an email. I found his email very helpful in framing the issue and the significant future consequences to all of us if TWU were to lose this challenge. And so, I have added his helpful comments below:

The Issue
TWU has a “Community Covenant” that commits members of the TWU community — faculty, staff, students — to limit sexual intimacy to the context of marriage between a man and woman. The Covenant makes no negative statements about homosexuals and includes an equal responsibility to treat all people with love and respect regardless of their background.

In 1995 when TWU proposed to offer a full program in teacher education, the BC College of Teachers (BCCT) refused to authorize the program on the grounds that the Covenant was discriminatory and inconsistent with training teachers for the public system. TWU challenged this in court. In 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 8 to 1 in favour of TWU and mandated approval of the TWU program.

In 2013 TWU presented a proposal to the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Law Society of BC (LSBC) for approval of its proposal to operate a law school. The proposal was also submitted to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada which represents the law societies in all of the provinces. It also went to the BC Minister of Advanced Education. After much careful scrutiny, the proposal was approved by all three bodies plus the provincial law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, PEI and Yukon.

LSBC approval was granted by the LSBC’s governing body (“The Benchers”) and the membership objected. A referendum was called and ultimately the members at large voted disapproval of the TWU proposal sending the measure back to further decision by The Benchers who then withdrew approval. Given their withdrawal, the BC Minister of Advanced Education withdrew approval.

The law societies in Nova Scotia and Ontario refused to approve the program from the beginning.

Where Matters Stand Now
• Approval remains in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, PEI and Yukon and by the Federation of Canadian Law Societies.
• The issue went to court in Nova Scotia and the court ruled in favor of TWU with the implication that TWU is approved also in NS. However, the law society has appealed. The appeal will be heard April 2016.
• The issue went to court in Ontario and the Ontario Superior Court (with a 3 judge panel) ruled against TWU. TWU has appealed. This appeal will likely also be heard in the spring of 2016.
It is widely anticipated that in the end the issue will travel to the Supreme Court of Canada for the ultimate decision.

What is at Stake?
Can the government or a body authorized by government refuse to grant a benefit based on disagreement with a faith-based organization’s commitment to traditional marriage?

The Civil Marriage Act of 2005 that legalized same sex marriage also provided that no organization should be penalized for maintaining a traditional view of marriage. Many took comfort in that provision but if TWU were to lose the case that statement of protection is meaningless.

Court decision establish precedents that tend to generalize beyond their initial application. If TWU can be denied approval to operate a law school, what other faith-based organizations could be denied approvals to do other kinds of things? What other government approvals and benefits could be denied or withdrawn, perhaps even charitable tax status? What about Christian camps, mission agencies, youth ministries, radio and TV programs and many other initiatives (perhaps among other faith groups too) might be affected?

Will we continue to have freedom in Canada to form authentic faith communities that respect what they have believed about marriage for thousands of years or will our modern government intervene to insist on conformity to its pluralistic and secular point of view as a condition of full participation in Canadian society?

However, if TWU can win the case, the Supreme Court’s decision will establish a precedent that can help protect all of us in ways that we may in future years be immensely grateful to have in place.

Therefore although the immediate issue concerns TWU and a law school, the outcome will have a much wider and deeper impact than that.

How Others Can Help?
The first obligation of Christian people is always to pray for God’s will to be done. In the end this matter is likely to be decided in the minds of 9 justices at the Supreme Court of Canada. Proverbs 21:1 applies. We all as the Christian community need to pray that our judges will decide with true integrity and righteous principles to maintain the freedom we have so long enjoyed in our land.

There will be occasions when this issue arises for people to express their concern and support. This can be done by writing Op Ed pieces for the media, letters to editors, encouragements to MLAs and MPs. So far the Government of Canada has intervened on TWU’s behalf. Whether this will continue under the new Prime Minister remains to be seen.

The issue is expensive. We estimate it will cost $3 million dollars to sustain TWU in its effort to carry the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada. Those who are able and concerned may be led to give. TWU will be grateful for and will need support.

It is important that Christian people everywhere commit to speaking about this issue with grace and respect and love toward others whose views are different. In defending our case we must not be guilty of angry speech and harsh words. God’s love for all remains the bedrock principle. Our cause is not to disadvantage anyone else. We are asking only that we continue to be permitted to function as authentic faith communities free to live out the principles of our faith in our daily living.
We have a great country that has historically upheld freedom of religious rights. Let’s be praying, writing our MPs and sending financial support to TWU to help support their significant legal costs.


Have a blessed week,

Steve



Our 2016 Fellowship theme verse is:

We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct and DEVOTION to God.” Titus 2:12(b) (NLT)





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      The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada
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      (519) 821-4830 ~ fax (519) 821-9829 ~ www.fellowship.ca
      


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