Nearly three months after losing its legal battle in the Supreme Court of Canada, Trinity Western University is once again making headlines because of its community covenant.
The Christian university, based in Langley, B.C., revoked its controversial community covenant on Aug. 14. According to the TWU website, the “Supreme Court of Canada decision was a contributing factor in this decision, but certainly not the only factor.”
Before, all TWU students were required to sign the covenant, which is viewed by critics as discriminatory towards members of the LGBTQ+ community because it forbids sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. It is for this reason that the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario took the university to Canada’s Supreme Court, which ruled that the societies had the legal right to refuse accreditation to TWU’s proposed law school.
Although disappointed, TWU respects the Supreme Court’s decision and believes that, above all else, Christian faith is at the core of the university’s identity.
“We want to ensure that TWU continues as a thriving community of Christian believers who clearly demonstrate that we are a welcoming environment for students from all perspectives, who wish to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy,” reads a statement on the school website.
Kwantlen Student Association Queer Representative Joseph Thorpe believes that making the community covenant optional for students is “a step in the right direction” for Trinity Western.
“I had a few LGBTQQIP2SAA friends who attended TWU and had to sign the community covenant, and they felt that it was very demeaning and discriminatory,” wrote Thorpe in an email to The Runner.
The community covenant still exists and students may still choose to sign it if they wish. For faculty and members of the university’s staff, signing it will remain mandatory.
Greg Millard, the chair of KPU’s political science department, said in an email to The Runner that the case of Trinity Western University was interesting to him because it considered both religious and LGBTQ+ rights.
“Both sides felt that fundamental rights were at stake,” says Millard. “Once people define something as a right, it tends to become non-negotiable for them—unlike a lot of more day-to-day issues, where we’ll generally accept trade-offs and compromises.”
Whether or not TWU will continue to push for the creation of its law school is unclear. However, both Millard and Thorpe believe that, if it does, TWU could once again run into legal trouble for requiring its staff and faculty to sign the covenant.
The B.C. Law Society’s motion denying accreditation to the TWU law school stated that discrimination against administrators, employees, and faculty based on sexual orientation or gender expression would not be tolerated. Therefore, according to Millard, it’s reasonable to assume that the BCLS will continue to refuse accreditation even though TWU lifted the requirement for students.
“It is still discriminatory, and from a human rights perspective, very problematic,” says Thorpe. “In normal hiring and employee rights, it is illegal to discriminate or terminate employment based on one of the protected grounds within human rights legislation. While religious freedom is also a right, it is wrong to oppress people based on something that they cannot change.”
When contacted by The Runner for an interview, a TWU representative declined to comment.