Trinity Western University

Proposed School of Law

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why does TWU want a law school?

Trinity Western University develops positive Christian leaders who, wherever they go, seek to serve others and improve their well-being. A law school is a wonderful opportunity to continue and extend that mission by developing professional graduates for service in all areas of society—with a particular emphasis on providing legal services to the less privileged.

Furthermore, TWU’s School of Law will meet a marked need for charity and not-for-profit law education in Canada. We believe that this field is highly compatible with the mission of TWU.

2. What is a “faith-based” law school?

TWU’s mission is to develop leaders of character and competence who serve God and people in all sectors of society. We see the opportunity to connect the study of law to our ethics-based mission as a way for our students to live out their faith in full compliance with the applicable professional standards as lawyers.

We also foresee a unique opportunity for our students to examine the connection between other world religions and the evolution of legal systems within those jurisdictions. Canadian law schools tend to focus solely on Canadian law, and we feel the Canadian legal system can benefit from a more global, faith-based approach to legal education.

We also foresee a unique opportunity for our students to examine the connection between other world religions and the evolution of legal systems within those jurisdictions. As with any field of study, it’s always a worthwhile exercise to examine and learn from what’s being done elsewhere.

3. Is TWU still opening a law school? If so, when?

Trinity Western University remains optimistic about the opening of the School of Law. Because it will require some time to resolve the matters through the courts, TWU will be proceeding with the law school in a timely and cost-appropriate manner.

4. How is TWU paying for the law school and its associated costs?

The law school will be funded by private donations. We do not anticipate that the costs of the law school will affect student tuition, financial aid, or administration costs. As part of the ongoing commitment to develop a culture of trust, TWU's President Bob Kuhn will remain both transparent and accountable regarding the university's revenue and expenses.

5. What is all the controversy about?

TWU’s School of Law has been met with opposition primarily because our Community Covenant asks students to “voluntarily abstain from sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Despite the significant attention it receives, sexual intimacy is only a small part of the Community Covenant. The Community Covenant is about holistic living, and focuses predominately on building a community of integrity, love, kindness, honesty, and graciousness.

Some opponents express the fear that TWU graduates will discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in their professional careers—despite the Supreme Court of Canada finding that there “wasn’t a shred of evidence” of any discrimination when the same issue went before them in consideration of our ability to educate prospective teachers in 2001.

6. Why does TWU have a community covenant?

As a traditional, Bible-based institution, we believe that actions and faith go hand-in-hand. The Community Covenant calls members to act with integrity, live an honest life, and treat all people with respect—and, most importantly, the Community Covenant protects the values that foster a healthy academic, spiritual, and communal life. It defines the holistic education unique to TWU.

7. Why does the university try to control the behaviour of its students?

A signed covenant is a student’s voluntary promise to uphold the community’s standards. The university, in accordance with its founding biblical principles, calls students to a Christ-like model of living. TWU does not aggressively police the community, but it does hold members accountable through processes of reconciliation and communal support.

Life at TWU is purposefully different. We pursue holistic growth and yet acknowledge the impossibility of perfection. TWU will always hold forgiveness and love as central communal values.

8. Why don’t you just remove the words “between a man and a woman” from the Community Covenant?

TWU is a welcoming environment with a diversity of opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds. However, at our core, we are faithful to traditional biblical values, including those regarding marriage. Furthermore, if we allow our identity to be defined by external sources, we lose our ability to define ourselves as a Christian community. To remove these six words is to change our identity and sacrifice our freedom to believe differently. It also raises the question: is there room in a secular society to hold divergent views on marriage? The Civil Marriage Act, which legalized same-sex marriage, clearly respects the right to do so.

9. Religion aside, does TWU have a legal right to keep the traditional biblical definition of marriage in its Community Covenant?

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the need to protect freedom of religion when it considered the constitutionality of the proposed Civil Marriage Act. In 2005, the Civil Marriage Act was passed, recognizing same-sex marriage in Canada. Importantly, it makes special provision for people of all faiths to maintain a traditional, religious definition of marriage without being penalized or deprived of any benefits otherwise available in society.

Also, in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that TWU students have the right to be educated in the environment characterized by the Community Covenant, and noted that TWU contributes to the diversity of university education in Canada.

10. The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in favour of TWU occurred way back in 2001. Haven’t things changed over the past several years?

It’s true that Canadians have become more accepting of same-sex marriage. It’s also true that the Civil Marriage Act protects the right of people of faith to maintain a traditional religious definition of marriage. Popular opinion should not override minority rights, and the Courts have provided protection from the dominance of popular opinion.

11. Does the Community Covenant ban gay students from attending TWU?

TWU is a welcoming campus, regardless of a student’s sexual orientation or religious beliefs. LGBTQ+ students are members of our university community, as are people from many different faiths and ethnicities. All students, staff, faculty, and alumni have signed the Community Covenant—the communal promise to live with integrity and Christ-like love—and all prospective students are invited to do the same.

12. Why shouldn’t gay couples be able to have sexual relations while attending TWU?

All unmarried students—gay or straight—are asked to refrain from sexual intimacy while members of the TWU community. By signing the Community Covenant, members agree to live in conformity with traditional understandings of biblical principles. We love and value all of the voices represented in our TWU body, as well as those who choose to attend elsewhere, but we nonetheless define our community by traditional, Bible-based principles.

13. So “extramarital” sexual relations between all unmarried couples is unacceptable, but what about legally married same-sex couples?

Civil same-sex marriages are now recognized by Canadian law for secular purposes. But religious views on same-sex marriage differ widely, and legal changes cannot dictate religious belief. Many religions—including many Christian denominations, and traditional Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews—have chosen not to bless same-sex marriage. We are each entitled to official policies based upon traditional religious teachings, which in this case defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

We believe Canada has made room for a diversity of beliefs on this issue. The legislation legalizing same-sex marriages in Canada—the Civil Marriage Act [2005], section 3.1—specifically protects religious persons and organizations from being penalized for retaining their traditional definition of marriage.

14. So you expect gay students to remain chaste the entire time they attend the university?

We expect any student—gay or straight—to honour the traditional biblical standards of our community. TWU expects a high level of self-discipline for unmarried students. By signing the Community Covenant, members agree to strive for Christ-like living. That being said, our community is defined by grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Our goal is to achieve spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

15. What happens when the Community Covenant is broken?

We believe people choose to attend TWU because they wish to be part of a Christian educational community that upholds traditional Christian values. Any student, whether gay or straight, who breaks the community covenant—for lying, cheating, gossiping, having extramarital sex, etc.—enters the reconciliation procedures outlined in the student handbook. TWU’s accountability processes are highly relational, evaluated in light of the circumstances, and focused on developing the individual.

16. Doesn’t this make you anti-gay?

Trinity Western University is not anti-anyone. As Christians, we are called to love and seek the good of each person, regardless of orientation, race, religion, or background. In fact, it would be inconsistent with TWU’s Community Covenant to do otherwise.

The traditional Christian perspective understands that who someone is and what someone does are fundamentally distinct realities. Therefore, while the university strives to love all people, TWU nonetheless believes that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. While this is the position that TWU maintains, we do not hold in contempt anyone who differs in perspective. Our university prides itself on open dialogue and critical examination of beliefs and values. In doing so, we contribute to the diversity essential to sustaining Canada’s pluralistic society.

17. As a university, wouldn’t a statement of your beliefs and values suffice to define your identity?

At TWU, we believe that holding a belief and acting on that belief is one in the same. Faith is not something practiced only on Sundays. Our faith calls us to action, and our Community Covenant is a collective promise to uphold these values. A statement would define the administration’s position, but the covenant defines each member as part of the whole.

18. But doesn’t adherence to Trinity Western’s Community Covenant effectively limit the opportunities for gay students to apply for and be accepted into Canadian law schools?

Anyone is welcome to join the Trinity Western University community. Their sexual orientation is never a consideration. As such, the TWU School of Law actually increases prospective law students’ options. Should a student find that the Community Covenant does not fit their lifestyle, then their options remain unchanged from the status quo.

What doesn’t exist is an option for law students interested in a faith-based law education. We would like to address that need.

19. Does Trinity Western University receive public funding?

As a private university, TWU does not receive public funding for its operations. However, there are two instances where TWU has received government financial support.

First, TWU’s faculty, like faculty at all universities in Canada, compete for research grants through the processes established by the funding agencies. It is a small but important part of our budget and helps us raise the profile of TWU within the academic community in Canada.

Second, during the last recession, the federal government made available one-time funds under its Knowledge Infrastructure Program. TWU applied for and received funds at that time. The funds received amounted to less than ½ of 1 percent of the funds provided by the Program in British Columbia.

20. Why should Canadians care about the TWU School of Law debate?

The TWU School of Law represents a crossroads in Canadian public life. TWU will be the first private law school in Canada. Some opponents claim that TWU’s graduates will discriminate against others, despite the absence of any evidence to that effect. The personal beliefs of a lawyer are not determinative of that person's capacity in any legal environment, and should not be held against them.

This is a test of Canada’s commitment to pluralism and diversity. Three of the four fundamental freedoms in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms—freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association—are at stake. Can a religious community like TWU exist, even when it conflicts with the dominant perspective? The answer must be affirmative if our fundamental freedoms are to have any value.

 

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