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Law Society Approves New Religious Law School
by Irshad Chan-McCoy, Diversity Editor
(TORONTO) (OF COURSE) To the surprise of many observers, and the dismay of a number of opponents, the Law Society of Ontario today approved the application of Sunlight Law School in Bangelton, a northeastern suburb of Toronto.
“The school met all the professional tests: the instructors are qualified, the curriculum covers the bases, the classrooms and library holdings are more than adequate. There’s really no reason not to approve,” said Law Society president V. Ernest Frankel, at a press conference held at Ausbad Hall, its headquarters.
Opponents, however, were not satisfied. “A school that receives public funds, even a single dollar, is obliged to respect public values,” said Richard Comte, general secretary of the Upper Canada Society of Free-Thinkers. “This school practices discrimination on a massive scale according to values that are wildly out of step with the beliefs of mainstream Canadians.”
The proposal does indicate that Sunlight will indeed receive public support in the form of research grants for professors, student loans, and charitable tax status, among other assistance. It will be funded mostly, however, by private donors and tuition.
“You would think our critics would be glad that we’re offering a legal education massively subsidized by our fellow believers,” said Sunlight dean Jonette Holyrood-Enns. “It’s actually a public service to our fellow Canadians.”
Controversy erupted two months ago, however, when the OSFT and others learned that the school insisted on a behavioral code (what it calls an “ethical bond”) for all faculty members and students that requires them to refrain from any involvement in violence and any consumption of meat products.
“We don’t require students to become pacifists or doctrinaire vegetarians,” clarified Sunlight’s executive director, Duc Sunnoko, recently retired as lead partner in the Toronto law firm CharleyQuattro. “We simply ask them to abide by these community standards for sound pedagogical reasons.”
When asked to clarify those reasons, Sunnoko replied, “We are training whole people here, not just legal brains, and the practices of avoiding coercion and meat-eating reinforce the principles we teach in the classroom: an ethic of cooperation, self-discipline, and care for others.”
The religion behind the Sunlight law school is Janduism, an Indian faith largely unknown by most Canadians, whose followers reside here in significant numbers only in the town of Bangelton. Janduism requires its members to refrain from violence, and particularly from any job that will involve them in coercion, such as police work or the armed forces. Jandus (as devotees are called) also maintain vegetarian diets.
Janduism does allow an exception to its otherwise strict rules. A small cadre of believers, drawn from young adult men who have pledged to protect the community against persecution, are allowed to eat meat (to promote maximum physical strength) and to engage in defensive violence. This group, known as the Khillzers, particularly provoked the critics.
“You see?” said Comte. “They allow a certain small group of people to act like regular Canadians, while ruling out for everyone else any military or police work and forbidding meat-eating, which are perfectly legal.”
The Law Society’s Frankel acknowledged the objection, but replied, “There are religiously justified reasons for the exception, and the exception doesn’t harm anyone or disadvantage anyone. We make exceptions in good rules all the time for good reasons. These people have their good reasons, reasons that are consistent with the mission of the school and are not merely arbitrary. This exception doesn’t compromise their ability to offer a first-rate legal education. And the question of that ability, of course, is all that a Law Society should answer.”
Proponents of British Columbia’s Trinity Western University’s Christian law school, which has been mired in its own set of legal battles, were heartened by the decision, as they were by a recent ruling in Nova Scotia along similar lines. But its critics suggested that the two situations were entirely different.
“Sunlight rules out certain things that everyone can go without for a while: violence and meat. No big deal. Plus that’s just what those people like to do, and that’s fine with me. Multiculturalism and all that,” said lawyer Brickton Diamond, a longtime opponent of TWU.
“But Trinity Western wants to rule out people enjoying sex, anytime, anywhere—except for a small minority. And that’s just crazy. And discriminatory.”
A number of courts and law societies in Canada continue to deliberate about Trinity Western University. But today in Bangelton there is rejoicing. The vaunted tolerance of Canadians for diversity seems to have been validated once again.