Just because it offends you doesn't mean it can't exist
Canada shouldn't constitutionalize the right to not be offended.
In Brian Bird's view, that is what's at stake in the ongoing controversy around the proposal from Trinity Western University — a private Christian university in B.C. — to create a law school.
The issue seems destined for the Supreme Court of Canada, and when it gets there, Bird — a doctoral student in law at McGill University — says there are a few issues that cannot be ignored.
In case you've missed the years and years of debate, here's what the controversy boils down to in three snappy sentences:
- Trinity Western University has a community covenant - a code of conduct that requires students to abstain from amongst other things, sexual intimacy "that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman."
- Critics argue that particular requirement unlawfully discriminates against gays and lesbians.
- In recent years, law societies in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia have opposed accrediting the university's law graduates, sparking legal battles that pit freedom of religion against equality rights.
To Bird, while Trinity Western is a university, it's a faith-based one, and when society granted it that special status, it effectively let it exist as a religious community — and one that should be allowed discriminate as to who it lets into its community.
"It enjoys religious freedom under the Charter, and its community covenant is not a mere code of conduct, it is in many ways a profession of faith," he says.
After all, Bird notes, it's a choice to go to Trinity Western.
While it may be unpalatable to some Canadians for a religious group to only value the sanctity of a heterosexual marriage, Bird argues there's a dangerous consequence in making Trinity Western drop the clause.
"If we enshrine that right to not be offended, we may find that today it's Trinity's rights, but tomorrow it might be another minority group that it might be used against."
"We have an underlying commitment in a free and democratic society to accommodate difference and protect minority rights. So I think Trinity Western is a good example of a minority who is seeking to protect its rights."