Different Schools for Different Folks—or Not? Reflections on Trinity Western’s Law School

No political issue in Canadian history has been more important, contentious, and complex than schooling, and particularly the question of government support for different kinds of schools.

The Constitution itself provides for different kinds of schools. Roman Catholic schools were to receive state aid alongside public (which, in 1867, would have meant “Protestant”) schools. Since then, we have wrestled with this commitment to minority schooling, as controversy has arisen from Newfoundland to British Columbia over how much support should be given to various kinds of religious schools. And at least one recent provincial election in Ontario was largely decided on such matters.

The history of the residential schools is that of a different approach: one type of education for everyone. In this program, European languages, stories, principles, and values were provided to, and imposed upon, minority children of widely varying indigenous cultures to the declared end of assimilating these children to majority ways.

A similar approach to education shows up as an important chapter even within Canadian church history. As two very different accounts of the United Church of Canada demonstrate (Kevin Flatt’s After Evangelicalism: The Sixties and the United Church of Canada, and Phyllis Airhart’s A Church with the Soul of a Nation: Making and Remaking the United Church of Canada), the New Curriculum for Sunday schools of the 1960s was intended to get everyone to read the Bible the same way in order to come to the same conclusions. Instead, more than any other single factor in that fractious era, the New Curriculum both demonstrated and exacerbated divisions in our largest Protestant communion.

Which brings us to Trinity Western University’s Law School project and the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.

But before we take up that issue, let’s go back to Confederation and the country’s Constitution for a moment. Let’s recall that the Protestants and Catholics who negotiated that union made provision for each other’s schools at a time when Protestants and Catholics generally were agreed that the other side’s doctrines were not only wrong, but dangerous. Indeed, the theology taught by the other side was not just dangerous, but infinitely dangerous, as it put in peril the immortal souls of innocent children. Teach them the wrong thing and, alas, they would go to hell.

That’s serious disagreement.