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November 10, 2000

Christian values often a disguise for intolerance: Supreme Court judge

College of Teachers refuses to certify Trinity students

Richard Foot
National Post

OTTAWA - A justice of the Supreme Court of Canada took issue with an ancient biblical teaching yesterday, saying the Christian values of love and respect for all humans are often a disguise for religious intolerance.

"It's all very well to say, 'love the sinner but hate the sin,' " said Justice Ian Binnie. "But is that not a contradiction in terms? While the religious may preach tolerance, religion is often an engine of intolerance."

Judge Binnie was questioning the lawyer for Trinity Western University, a Christian university in British Columbia that wants the right to train teachers to work in secular, public schools.

The British Columbia College of Teachers refuses to certify teachers graduating directly from Trinity because it says their religious views against homosexuals might harm students in the classroom.

Trinity teaches that homosexual behaviour is sinful, but it also insists on love for all. Therefore it says its graduates would spread tolerance, not hatred, toward gays and lesbians in schools.

Said Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé: "We have all this love stuff," but if Trinity's code stated that blacks were inferior to whites, or that Jews should be killed, would its teachers still be fit for public schools?

The case presented yesterday at the Supreme Court represents a clash of values within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- the freedom of religion v. the freedom from sexual discrimination.

It also has wide implications for Canadian society, and will turn on how the nine justices of the court answer the question: should a person's private, moral convictions automatically disqualify them from working in the public arena?

"It cannot be in the public interest to require that one profess beliefs that accord with one set of values, to participate in public professional life," Robert Kuhn, the lawyer for Trinity Western, told the court. Such restrictions aren't placed on doctors or nurses, or even judges, he said.

Added Andrew Lokan, lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which supports the university's case: "What if the government denied other public benefits, such as drivers licences, on the basis of religious beliefs?"

The B.C. teachers college, a regulatory agency, says the difference with Trinity Western is that the university requires its students to sign a "community standards" code upon admission. The code says, "all students are responsible to refrain from practices that are contrary to biblical teaching ... including premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behaviour and viewing of pornography."

But it is their biblically based views of gays and lesbians that most upsets the college, and is the reason why it is refusing to certify the final year of Trinity's education program.

Trinity students now seek limited spaces at a secular institution such as Simon Fraser University, where their fifth year of practicum studies can be completed. The college allows this, saying that attendance at a non-religious university gives Trinity students a taste of secular values before they enter the classroom.

"We have a university who says homosexuality is a sin," Thomas Berger, the college's lawyer, said yesterday. "We simply want to make sure that when their graduates enter the public schools, they are equipped to deal with the difficulties they might find there."

He says such "difficulties" include homosexual students and children with same-sex parents.

"Will they be able to offer a supportive learning environment to all children?" he asked.

"But why," asked Justice Frank Iacobucci, "because a person has a religious belief, can't that person carry out the function of a teacher?"

Said Mr. Berger: "No one is saying the teachers are going to proselytize their faith. You are entitled to your faith, but if you're going into the public schools, you should first be exposed to the great panorama of public life."

Trinity says its case should be decided on specific facts. It says there is no evidence that its graduates -- who have worked for years in public schools after taking their final year of studies at a non-religious university -- have ever spread discrimination in the classroom.

"Evidence [of discrimination] is in the [Trinity] program," responded Judge Dubé. "What kind of other evidence do you want?"

The teachers' college says Trinity's behavioural code presents a risk that its teachers might discriminate in class, and it wants the court to reverse the decisions of two lower courts in B.C. that ordered the college to certify the fifth year of the university's education program.

The Catholic Church, which intervened yesterday in support of the university, says if the Supreme Court does not allow Trinity graduates to work in public schools without a year at a secular university, a pall of doubt will be cast on high school students graduating from Catholic separate schools.

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