‘On the tip of the spear’ of fight for freedom of conscience

30 January 2018

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Every Canadian should be concerned about ongoing threats to their freedom of expression and conscience rights, said the vice-president of a B.C. Christian university embroiled in a legal battle over those issues.

“We seem to be at the tip of the spear, which we’re happy to do, but this impacts all of us in Canada,” said Scott Fehrenbacher of Trinity Western University.

Fehrenbacher spoke on the sidelines of Break Forth One, a national Christian leadership conference held in Edmonton Jan. 26-28.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule within the next several months on a series of appeals that will determine whether graduates from Trinity Western University’s proposed law school will be accepted into the profession.

The issue is the Langley, B.C., university’s community covenant, which bans students from having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. All students are required to sign the covenant.

Critics say the community covenant discriminates against non-Christian students and members of the lesbian, gay, transsexual and queer communities.

However, Fehrenbacher argues that the community covenant is a form of protected religious expression, and notes that it clearly forbids any form of discrimination.

“This is a challenge to the church … to protect our ability and our freedom to have that expression in the public forum,” Fehrenbacher said.  “All we want to do is train students to serve Canada and to serve communities.”

Last month, the Supreme Court heard from Trinity Western University, the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario, and other intervenors.

Fehrenbacher said he’s confident the court will rule in Trinity Western’s favour. If that happens, their law school could open as early as next year.

Fehrenbacher’s comments come on the heels of the ongoing controversy over a new requirement for funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program, which critics across the country say infringes on freedom of expression and conscience rights.

Applicants for program funding must now attest that both the job and the organization’s “core mandate” support the “right to access to safe and legal abortions,” as well as the federal government’s interpretation of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s disturbing on a number of levels,” Fehrenbacher said.

He noted that the Canada Summer Jobs attestation is another example of how the Charter rights of Canadians are being threatened, and Trinity Western University plans to speak out about that.

Eight-seven Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and other religious leaders in Canada – including Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith – have already done do.

But in Question Period on Jan. 29, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu refused to change the pro-abortion attestation or extend the Feb. 2 deadline to apply for Canada Summer Jobs program funding.

Hajdu’s position was bolstered this week by a statement supporting the attestation from 80 groups including Planned Parenthood, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Oxfam Canada, legal rights groups, and women’s shelters.

– with files from Canadian Catholic News