The complete picture of what occurred in Orlando last week, of what motivated the worst mass shooting in United States' history, is complicated and may never fully emerge.
But what we do know is that the shooter targeted an LGBTQ club, and that most of the people he murdered and injured belonged to the Queer community. We also know that this was not a coincidence. Gay, lesbian, and transgendered folks in the United States, and elsewhere, are among the most vilified -- the most hated -- minorities in the world.
In Canada, courts in three provinces are poised to issue decisions related to Trinity Western University's ongoing efforts to establish an accredited law school in British Columbia. TWU, as many are aware, requires its students, staff, and faculty to sign a contract promising not to engage in "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman." The University cites biblical passages vilifying and condemning homosexuality to support its policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians. The passages refer to homosexuality as "vile" and "shameful."
Queer people are beaten, raped, and murdered because of our sexual orientation and gender identities.
Law Societies in Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia decided that TWU's law degree could not be accredited because the University excludes gays and lesbians. TWU appealed those decisions and courts in each of these provinces are now faced with striking the right balance between TWU's freedom of religion and the equality rights of sexual minorities. Getting this balance right is critically important.
The issue is not whether TWU should be able to teach law. The issue is whether public bodies, like law societies, should accredit TWU's law degree given its discriminatory policy. These three law societies were rightly concerned about the detrimental impact on the equality interests of sexual minorities that would occur if they accredited an institution that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
Why was it right for them to deny accreditation? Because, unfortunately, our society remains filled with hatred for sexual minorities. This is not, as Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court grossly mischaracterized the issue, a matter of "hurt feelings." Queer people are beaten, raped, and murdered because of our sexual orientation and gender identities.
From the perspective of those of us who remain the subject of this disgust and detestation, it matters not whether this hatred is born of religious belief. The effects of religiously inspired homophobia are every bit as real as homophobia motivated by fear of difference or intolerance of others. Practices of exclusion based on views that perpetuate this type of hatred, whether intentionally or inadvertently, are no less damaging when supported by scripture.
Public institutions, such as law societies, are obligated not to put their stamp of approval on an organization that excludes one of the most vilified minorities in Canada and around the world. They are legally obligated not to contribute to the hatred of sexual minorities.
This does not mean that TWU should be prevented from practicing its beliefs or from teaching law from its evangelical Christian perspective. But as with all rights, there are limits to freedom of religion. For example, it must be balanced with equality. Requiring public bodies to accredit an institution that discriminates against a despised minority, a group subject to the most violent hate crimes in Canada, would allow freedom of religion to trump equality.
The mass murder of gays and lesbians that occurred last week in Orlando provides a horrific example of what can occur when a country allows one of its constitutional rights to run amok. Forty-nine people were murdered on Sunday by an individual who -- a week earlier -- had exercised his second amendment right to legally purchase the assault rifle that killed them. The United States has failed profoundly in striking the correct balance between its constitutionally enshrined "right to bear arms" and other, fundamentally important, societal values.
Let's hope that the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, and the Ontario Court of Appeal recognize that a just and humane balance between freedom of religion and equality protections for sexual minorities draws a line between what a religious organization can do privately and what our public bodies will accept. Let's hope these courts recognize that offering state sanction to an organization that discriminates against gays and lesbians because of a religious belief that homosexuality is "vile" and "shameful" would contribute to the kind of hatred that makes LGBTQ communities the target of such virulent homophobia.
Elaine Craig is the author of TWU Law: A Reply to Proponents of Approval.
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