Would a faith-based law school create anti-gay lawyers?

A private Christian university in B.C.'s Fraser Valley that hoping to open Canada's first faith-based law school is being criticized for its opposition to same-sex relationships.

Trinity Western University hopes to open Canada's first faith-based law school

A new law school at Trinity Western University concerns some in the Canadian legal community. The university's Community Covenant Agreement, which all students have to sign, contains a clause requiring abstinence from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage," which it defines as "between a man and a woman." (Trinity Western University)

A private Christian university in B.C.'s Fraser Valley hoping to open Canada's first faith-based law school is being criticized for its opposition to same-sex relationships.

The proposal by Trinity Western University (TWU), which offers a three-year law program that accepts 60 students a year starting in September 2015, has just been given preliminary approval by the Federation of Law Societies.

But critics are concerned over the TWU Community Covenant Agreement all students have to sign, which contains a clause requiring abstinence from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."

If a student fails to comply with the agreement after signing it, the university "reserves the right to discipline, dismiss, or refuse a student’s re-admission to the University," according to the handbook.

Justin Trottier at the Centre For Inquiry Canada is worried the university's religious views would mean the new law school would be a less welcoming environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) students and would end up producing lawyers with an anti-gay bias.

"I'm deeply concerned because I think it is discrimination," said Trottier, who says the law school should produce lawyers sensitive to Canadian legal values, which embraces gay marriage.

"If they [the university] do get accredited, I think it's very important that this does go to court."

Students send letter protests

In March this year, more than a thousand students from eight Canadian law schools signed letters protesting the efforts by TWU, claiming the university's policies discriminate against the LGBT community.

The letter petition asked the Federation of Law Societies and the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology to reject the accreditation of the university's proposed law school.

In a statement responding to the petition at the time, TWU said the proposal was "rigorously researched and developed" after consulting with legal experts.

"While we value and respect differing views, we trust that a faith-based community still has the religious freedom in Canada to maintain its beliefs and participate fully in society," the statement said.

"Our proposal is for a School of Law that emphasizes professionalism, competence, high ethical standards and leadership," Janet Epp Buckingham and Kevin Sawatsky, two faculty members who drafted the law school proposal, told CBC News in a joint email response at the time.

"The faith component adds a unique dimension to legal education."

The next step of the approval process rests with the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology, which is now reviewing the proposal.

With files from the CBC's Luke Brocki

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