Trinity Western University’s law school and the battle over free thinking

Trinity Western University

Trinity Western University

It is clear that the debate over Trinity Western University’s proposal for a law school is no longer a debate over homosexuality and religious freedom, but a debate over intellectual competency.

Take the recent article in the National Post from legal scholars who oppose TWU’s proposal for a law school as an example. While arguing for increased Chartered protection for gays and lesbians, they are also very clear in stating that the real issue is TWU’s ability to teach law:

“The crux of the issue is how the discrimination and institutional environment at TWU impacts the ability of the school to teach law. In order to permit entry into a provincial or territorial law society (as determined by the Federation), the law degree program must meet national standards in its curriculum. Those standards require critical thinking about ethical and legal issues. No person can truly think critically from one pre-determined lens, in this case, a lens mandated by TWU.”

Furthermore, look at how Don Dutton, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, responds to not only TWU’s proposal for a law school, but its status as a university in a letter to the National Post:

“[TWU] should not only not have a law school — it should not be called a university. Universities in Western tradition support free inquiry. Hence, at a university one could study archaeology and learn, through carbon dating, about human hunter gatherers or early settlements that predate the Christian view in Genesis. One could study anthropology and learn of myriad religious beliefs or study social psychology and learn that these other belief systems had as much grounding in empirical evidence as has Christianity — none. A school that demands faculty believe a certain dogmatic way is incompatible with free inquiry. Not a law school, not a university.”

The ironic part about this whole debate is that opponents of a TWU law school end up appearing much more narrow-sighted in their dogmatic beliefs than TWU’s religious beliefs ever did.

The opponents of TWU argue that a law school should not be “hindered” by religious beliefs that are, in their estimation, merely dogmatic beliefs that cannot be supported on neutral, or as Dutton said, empirical grounds. My question, and the question that many have asked, “is where is the neutral or empirical ground that everyone keeps referring to?” I haven’t found it, and I don’t believe the people who claim to stand on such ground have either.

John Carpay, a Calgary lawyer and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argued in the Vancouver Sun that this neutral ground that Dean Flanagan and other opponents claim to stand on is actually a “government-enforced ideology” that is the opposite of a free society. A free society, Carpay argues, is one that,

“protects atheists and agnostics from government coercion as much as it protects theists. To insist that all law schools (or other institutions) must subscribe to a particular set of beliefs about sexual behaviour threatens the freedom of everyone — including Flanagan’s freedom.”

Similarly, Barbara Kay points out that we can’t find this neutral ground because it simply doesn’t exist. Religious beliefs function in the same way as a secular beliefs – namely, that they do not discourage free-thinking or free inquiry because they is no neutral ground on which such thinking can take place. She says,

“If what these legal scholars say were true – if a “pre-determined lens” actually shuts down the ability to think critically, and that is the rationale for disallowing TWU’s law school – then by the same logic, pretty well every law school in Canada should be closed.”

Identifying our pre-determined lens is half the battle in pursuing free inquiry and free thought. To not even acknowledge that you have a pre-determined lens – whether it is biblical or not – is to be an unwitting slave to that worldview, and an unwitting slave is certainly not the model for free inquiry and intellectual competency.

This is why, as Barbara Kay quipped, “I am betting TWU students will be taught the actual law more objectively than many other schools in Canada.”


  1. “….they do not discourage free thinking or free inquiry….”, is simply breathtaking in its separation from reality.Religions as rigidly & dogmatically conservative as found at TWU, absolutely forbid free thinking & free inquiry. The end result is not just an academic difference of opinion; it serves to denigrate human dignity, & civil rights of thousands of people. Any graduate of a religious law school could no more represent the rights of ordinary non-religious people or people seen as ‘sinners’, than those we see in the US in groups like Liberty Counsel , whose principal purpose is attempting to undermine or eliminate; the rights of LGBT Americans.

  2. It has been a pet peeve of mine, ever since I began to pursue a confrontation with my personal self-imposed illusions, that there are many subsets in out culture who, while being in the throes of their illusions, insist that they have the pure experience. It starts with the media, who only report the news and don’t make it (yeah right). The government bureauacracy are all there for my edification (yeah right). The union management is on my side (yeah right). Looking around my world with critical eyes (I still puruse because I haven’t arrived), I have come to the persuation that nobody can convince me that human nature is basically good. I cannot find evidence of our inherent goodness and would be hard-pressed to trust anyone with any position of power. If we would actually begin to structure our systems with that in mind, I think we could come up with a culture immediately more equitable.

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