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Former MP asks lawyers to defend religious freedom

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Woodworth hopes B.C. law society will drop TWU appeal
By Agnieszka Krawczynski
Stephen Woodworth (left) stands outside the offices of the Law Society of B.C. with supporters May 4. (Photo submitted)
A former Conservative MP is hoping the Law Society of B.C. will drop its appeal of a recent court decision in favour of Trinity Western University’s future law school.

Stephen Woodworth wrote an open letter to all B.C. benchers urging them to change their minds about taking TWU to the Supreme Court May 1.

“The law society is trying to punish conduct which is completely legal,” he told The B.C. Catholic. “In doing so, they are trampling on freedom of belief, freedom of association, freedom to educate oneself.”

The issue at stake is TWU’s community covenant, which asks students to abstain from sex outside marriage between a man and a woman while studying there.

Opponents call it potential discrimination against gay or lesbian students, but the B.C. Court of Appeal sided with the school, saying the covenant is in line with the “ability to exercise fundamental religious and associative rights” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not accrediting TWU graduates would be “unreasonable.”

Woodworth, now the founder of the Democracy Defence Initiative, agrees. “In Canada, it’s perfectly legal to believe, if you wish, that a union between one man and one woman is uniquely sacred in the eyes of God,” he said.

“It is not illegal for any church community to provide higher education for its members, including a legal education.”

TWU, a Langley-based Christian university, has faced numerous legal battles from law societies across the country since it announced it met all the major requirements to open an accredited law school in 2014.

The B.C. law society initially approved the school, then changed its mind in October 2014. A back-and-forth of suits and appeals ensued, moving from the B.C. Supreme Court to the B.C. Court of Appeals, with the courts siding with TWU every time.

The law society appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and a hearing date is set for Nov. 30. Woodworth wishes the law society would call it off.

“I’m not a member of TWU and I don’t practise law any more, but what I want people to realize is that if anyone’s freedom is taken away, it’s your freedom that’s being taken away. It’s my freedom that’s being taken away,” he said.

He visited the offices of seven benchers in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Prince George, and Smithers between May 1 and 9 to deliver his letter personally. Only two lawyers were available to meet him. He said they were “courteous” and “affirmed our right to speak publicly on this issue.”

He also delivered hundreds of copies to passersby, hoping to raise awareness about what he considers an issue of freedom of religion and association for all Canadians.

Earl Phillips, executive director of TWU’s proposed law school, said he values the efforts of Woodworth and his fellow activists.

“We appreciate the concerns they have and of course agree that there is nothing wrong and illegal about believing in a traditional Christian understanding of marriage and having a community that wishes to live in accordance with that understanding,” he said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 May 2017 09:44  

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