For almost seventy years of the 20th century, the Soviet Union engaged in the systemic elimination of religion. Beginning with Vladimir Lenin and then Joseph Stalin, they considered religion of any sort to be a threat to the communist ideal which was rooted in an atheistic worldview. The Communist Party advocated the destruction of religion and it officially pronounced religious beliefs to be superstitious and backward. The state destroyed churches, synagogues, mosques and Buddhist temples. Religious leaders were harassed, ridiculed and most often sent to the Gulag. Most people think of the Gulag as a single concentration camp for Russian dissidents, but in fact it was a string of 423 labour camps spread all across Russia which was the home to 5 million ‘political prisoners’ over the decades. The death count was countless… because no one was counting. With his award winning book, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn coined the term The Gulag Archipelago, as he likened it to a chain of islands. During his 8 long years of incarceration, the Nobel prize winner witnessed the execution of Orthodox and Catholic priests and religious sisters. As the Soviets systematically eliminated religious leaders, they flooded the schools and media with anti-religious teachings, and introduced a belief system called ‘scientific atheism’. They did all this without ever officially outlawing religion.
If this does not sound vaguely familiar, it should. The ‘powers that be’ have been openly oppressing religious freedom in Canada at a dizzying pace in the last decade and many people, distracted by the busyness of modern life, haven’t even noticed. Last week was a watershed moment for the church in Canada as religious freedom reached an historic low. Trinity Western University in BC has been attempting to start a Christian law school for the last several years. Law societies in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia have decreed that graduates from the school will not be permitted to practice law in their respective provinces. The objection is that TWU requires all students to sign a “community covenant,” in which students and staff agree to the understanding that sexual relations must be limited to heterosexual marriage — which, by definition, excludes premarital sex, extramarital sex and homosexual relationships. The last one is the hot button of course. Apparently no one cares if the school restricts young people from sowing their wild oats. But telling them they cannot engage in same-sex practices is just going too far. The law societies are smart enough to know that they are stepping into the arena of restricting religious freedom so they have clearly stated they are NOT saying Christian law schools cannot exist, only that their graduates will not be able to work in their chosen professions. Discrimination in the workplace because of ones’ faith! I cannot think of a more direct slap in the face to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms! Surely they cannot be serious about this? Well they are, and it gets worse.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where, in a shocking judgement this week, the courts upheld the law societies argument that “the covenant that students of Trinity Western University must sign infringes the access of those in the LGBTQ community and those in committed common-law relationships.” In a 7 to 2 judgement, the court admitted that it was indeed restricting TWU’s religious freedoms in a “minor” way which they felt was outweighed by the need to ‘balance’ charter rights. Specifically they wrote, “It was reasonable for the LSBC to conclude that promoting equality by ensuring equal access to the legal profession, supporting diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were valid means to pursue the public interest.” The two dissenting justices, Suzanne Côté and Russell Brown, disagreed insisting that the law societies had no business interfering in the internal life of TWU on a matter irrelevant to educating lawyers to professional standards. However, the majority decision prevailed and it looks unlikely that TWU will be opening a law school any time soon.
TWU’s position has never been about restricting LGBTQ rights or in any way trying to prevent individuals in general from entering into same sex relationships. It has always been about encouraging Christian young people to live out their biblical values while attending an unambiguously Christian university. Would not a Jewish university have the right to expect their students to practice Judaism? Would we not expect a Muslim university to mandate daily Islamic prayer? If I applied to a Muslim school and was refused because I would not bow to Allah, most thinking people would not consider that discriminatory. They should have the every right to expect compliance. And I would still maintain my freedom to apply to a school that does not have such religious expectations. The crux of the case seems to be that the TWU ‘covenant’ would be discriminatory against the LGBTQ community by excluding them from enrollment at TWU. The court stated that these students would not have access to the 60 spots in the new law school. Never mind that gay and lesbian students are not exactly banging on the door trying to get into Evangelical universities and that there are 16 other law schools in Canada that they could attend. What the decision really does is ensure that the TWU law school doesn’t open in the first place and nobody gets those spots. I am saddened and embarrassed to live in a nation that cannot make room for a small private university to maintain it’s freedom of religion and conscience. It is clearly open season on Christians in Canada!
The bigger question now becomes what about the teachers and other professionals that TWU has been producing for decades. The judicial precedent has now been set for everyone of these occupations to be unaccredited. I don’t believe the Supreme Court is being short sighted. They know exactly what they are doing. This has all the fingerprints of institutional systemic religious discrimination. In today’s post-Christian culture, religion (and particularly Christianity), is being regarded as a threat to the secularization of Canada. Maybe we are not yet exactly headed to the Gulag, but at the rate our freedom of speech is being restricted it will not be long before churches will be required to take down their crosses and put up a happy face in its place. Merely preaching from the bible puts us at odds with the zeitgeist or spirit of the age.
Apparently we have learned nothing from Communist Russia or Nazi Germany; that if you take away one group’s freedom of conscience, the train is then heading down the track to certain totalitarianism. The very people who are cheering the decision today may be the victims of their own success tomorrow. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Martin Niemöller was an outspoken German Lutheran pastor who found himself in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II. As a holocaust survivor he emerged after the war as a champion of healing and reconciliation and is most famous for these words.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me —and there was no one left to speak for me.