In TWU v. NSBS, Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court delivered a resounding vindication for freedom of religion last month, overturning a Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society regulation which would have prohibited Trinity Western University graduates from practicing law in that province.
The basis of the Barristers’ Society objection was Trinity Western’s longstanding “Community Covenant,” which asks all students and staff to abstain from various behaviours, ranging from drug use to vulgar language to premarital sex. At the heart of the controversy is the Trinity Western community’s shared belief in the traditional definition of marriage. That belief was deemed “discriminatory” by the Barristers’ Society, which ironically responded by prospectively excluding Trinity Western graduates from the practice of law.
The Society’s hypocrisy was not lost on Justice Campbell, who noted that “the Charter is not a blueprint for moral conformity,” and “equality rights have not jumped the queue to now trump religious freedom.”
In response to the Society’s argument that excluding Trinity Western graduates would free up more spots for gay and lesbian articled students, Campbell observed that “a more direct approach would be to directly limit the number of heterosexual articled clerks to reduce the disparity. That is every bit as strange as it sounds. That is not how social progress is achieved in a liberal democracy.”
“The NSBS has made serious and meaningful efforts to deal with discrimination,” Campbell wrote. “This just isn’t one of them.”
In the course of his 139-page decision, Campbell made the important legal finding that a symbolic gesture against perceived discrimination is not a sufficient justification for the infringement of fundamental freedoms. Where a decision “addresses only the need to make a statement of principle so as to not appear to be hypocritical, that is hardly a pressing and substantial purpose justifying the infringement of a Charter right,” Campbell ruled.
Decided by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on January 28, 2015.
Click here for the full text of the decision.