Give them enough rope …

A law school connected to Christian institution Trinity Western University in BC is facing an odd hurdle.

Certain law societies in Canada (BC, Ontario, and Nova Scotia) are deciding not to allow graduates of the new law school to practice law in their provinces. (More have approved it already without fuss, including my home province of Alberta.) The justification seems to be the discriminatory admission practices of the university. Students must conform to a code of behaviour that excludes gays and unmarried couples who perform certain private acts.

My first reaction is that this is a ridiculous code of behaviour to impose on students, unworthy of an institution that calls itself a “university”.

My second reaction, especially after reading some of the news stories, is that the barrier seemed arbitrary. The news stories focus on the discriminatory rule (eg, here, here, and here). Nobody seems to argue that the students who come out of the program will be unqualified to practice law.

Students who are okay with TWU’s code of conduct may be more likely to oppose the rights of sexual minorities – or they to refuse clients or cases that are contrary to the bigoted position of their alma mater. If that is the problem, then surely the solution is to make individual lawyers to agree to a code of conduct. That way, you address not only the bad eggs coming out of TWU’s law school, but also the bigots that happen to study at more mainstream law schools.

But no – all the quotes in the media seem to centre around how horrible it is that the school has this sexually-discriminatory code for the students.* If this is the problem, then don’t punish the students for their school’s bigoted stance. Find some way to address it with the school. One effective and regulation-free solution would be for all the members of the relevant professional groups to be aware of TWU’s code. They are in a strong position to exert social pressure on new graduates, encouraging them to embrace a more pro-social attitude to the humans they encounter in their professional lives. Given how these votes are coming out, I think the social momentum is already leaning this way.

In the end, my position is the same as Hemant Mehta’s: the school (a private university) should be free to treat its students in this bigoted way; society should be free to criticize them; and its students should be allowed or not allowed to practice law based on their legal qualifications.

I’ll close by pointing to two comments that seem to speak to the content of the program. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (responsible for accrediting law programs across the country) says

The Special Advisory Committee on Trinity Western University’s Proposed School of Law … concluded that there is no public interest reason to exclude future graduates of the program from law society bar admission programs as long as the program meets the national requirement.

And the Advanced Education Minister in BC, Amrik Virk, said in December,

The Degree Quality Assessment Board reviewed Trinity Western University’s proposed law degree and found that it met the degree program quality assessment criteria for private and out-of-province public institutions.

What do you think of this whole mess? What would be the optimal solution to the conflicting needs of private autonomy and freedom versus upholding equal rights?

Footnote:

* Yes, I am taking the media reports with a grain of salt. Journalists and their audience like a good A versus B narrative, and the secular-vs-religious narrative appeals to both liberals and conservatives – each gets to feel either smugly victorious or self-importantly oppressed.

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4 Responses to “Give them enough rope …”

  1. jasonincontemplation Says:

    I feel self-importantly oppressed! Seriously though, imagine if certain provinces weren’t allowing students to practice law because the graduated from a school that had liberal views on marriage and sexuality. What would the left call such practices?

    So we see the hypocrisy of the left. They try to present themselves as opposed to any form of discrimination, but when they are powerful enough to do so, they discriminate.

    The truth is, everyone discriminates when they have the power to do so. The liberal idealistic picture of a discrimination-free society is a fairy tale. Shown to be the case in this instance by the liberals themselves.

    It’s really a question of who’s discrimination you want to live under, and for the liberals, they’re happy living under liberal discrimination. But say that then, don’t ramble on about how you oppose all forms of discrimination.

  2. Timothy Mills Says:

    Jason, your indignation is understandable. I have a similar reaction every time some petty religious privilege – in Canada, the US, or elsewhere – is used to marginalize humanists or atheists.

    However, your claim that “everyone discriminates when they have the power to do so” is over-broad. I don’t see atheists in thoroughly-secular Scandinavian countries oppressing their religious minorities, for example. Yes, we all tend not to notice oppression when the prohibited behaviours are ones we wouldn’t choose to engage in ourselves. But when it’s brought to our attention? Well, that’s when people’s true values get tested, I suppose. And there are plenty who pass the test.

    Your suggestion that I would be happy living under liberal discrimination is without foundation. As I said in the post, I’m not pleased by the particular reaction of the BC, Ontario, and Nova Scotia law societies. So, at least as far as this issue goes, I am not happy living under liberal discrimination.

    That’s not to say that I approve of Trinity Western’s code of conduct. Unlike many people – across the political spectrum – I don’t think that all forms of bad behaviour ought to be illegal. We have plenty of social tools we (as individuals with values we want to promote) can use without either silently accepting bad behaviour or banning it with the coercive power of the state.

  3. jasonincontemplation Says:

    You said, “I don’t see atheists in thoroughly-secular Scandinavian countries oppressing their religious minorities, for example.” Exactly, because they are minorities. If they were a power threat, like Christians in the west are, they would be persecuted in a power struggle.

    You said, “Your suggestion that I would be happy living under liberal discrimination is without foundation.” I was speaking of liberal’s more generally, not necessarily you in particular.

    Other than that, I commend you for pointing out the discrimination here.

  4. Timothy Mills Says:

    Are you claiming that it is impossible in principle to reduce or eliminate discrimination? Or are you saying instead that, given human nature, we will always tend to discriminate, with the more powerful or numerous imposing their will on the less powerful?

    I could agree that people have a tendency to want to impose their own preferences on others, so we have a psychological and social tendency to discriminate when we can. However, this is not inevitable, and we can work to reduce discrimination. This has been the trend over the past few centuries of democratic progress. Even in the 20th and 21st centuries, we have seen reductions in religious, sexual, and racial discrimination in most Western countries.

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