Over the coming months, in churches, in coffee shops, in classrooms, and around kitchen tables, there will be much about which to lament.
There is the Canadian Supreme Court’s brazen disregard for precedent. Fewer than 20 years ago the same body argued in favour of the same university over substantially the same question (whether Trinity Western could open a school of education). One can only imagine how the Court’s lack of self-restraint will further erode public confidence in our judiciary.
Those who are elated at the Court’s elevation of sexual license may for the moment rejoice, but they shouldn’t. The blow struck against religious freedom this June erodes the freedom of everyone, including secularists and LGBT members.
We should be clear what this case was not about. It was not a conflict between Evangelical Christians and people of various sexual inclinations. Trinity is a private institution that funds its own purse. No one has to join this club. People of any declared orientation can sign on. Trinity simply asks those who do so to embrace a chaste sexual ethic. Such an ethic is just as difficult to embrace for a heterosexual male or female as for any other person. Are hockey teams now to be penalized if somebody shows up who insists on playing basketball?
Religious freedom has often been called our “first” freedom. There are two reasons for this. One is that religious questions call forth an act of conscience. Men and women, unlike dogs and cats, form reasoned convictions upon which they base their plan of life. Does man have a destiny? Does justice have an ultimate source? Is there life after death? These are questions none of us can avoid. Whether you come out for or against God, freedom in religion is a state’s way of making room for such considered reflection. This ruling makes such safe spaces harder to find in Canada.
Religious freedom is called the “first” freedom for another reason: it expresses our freedom to form associations based upon common loves. As I write this I am squashed between two other passengers at the back of a Ford E350 van. Dusk approaches. Our airport shuttle is late and the six other passengers I ride with are not in a good humour. Though we travel together we are not friends; we are merely associates united in our need to arrive at our hotel after a long flight.
But whether the Court acknowledges this or not, human beings long for more than associates. We need friends. And friendship can only be based upon common loves. Like the family, and like the State itself, religion binds people for reasons more profound than utility. Even an atheist can appreciate how religion (potentially) joins otherwise isolated individuals around the highest good of all: God.