Religious Freedom conference at TWU never more relevant than now

Langley, British Columbia—The religious freedom conference that took place on June 6-8 at Trinity Western University couldn’t have been more relevant. On June 7, the world learned that U.S. missionary Martin Burnham, 42, held hostage by guerillas in the Philippines for more than a year, had been killed. That same day, Paul Marshall, PhD, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House in Washington, D.C., stood at a podium in Langley to speak on religious freedom and the international world. It was clear from this current example that the audience needed no convincing when Marshall asserted religious freedom is on the decline.

Marshall, author of the best-selling, award-winning survey on religious persecution, titled, “Their Blood Cries Out,” was one of several top North American experts on religious freedom to participate in the conference which was sponsored by TWU and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC).

“From the very beginning, the intention of the committee was to address issues of religious liberty through a conference that would be useful to people of all faiths and even to people of no faith at all,” says Paul Chamberlain, PhD, director of TWU’s Institute for Christian Apologetics at ACTS Seminaries, and conference chair.

The conference, called, “Keeping the Faith: Religious Freedom, Human Dignity and the Public Good,” attracted lawyers, politicians, theologians, students and professionals spanning from Cape Breton and Ottawa to Regina and Vancouver. While Marshall gave an international overview, a large part of discussion focused on challenges to religious freedom right at home in Canada.

“Make no mistake about it, religious liberty is being seriously threatened in Canada today,” began David Novak, PhD, who holds the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies as a professor at the University of Toronto, in his Thursday evening keynote address which opened the conference. “Of course, that should come as no surprise to our hosts here at Trinity Western University due to their recent experience in court.”

It was TWU’s court case which prompted the University and Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to hold a conference on religious freedom. Last May, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of TWU in the University’s five year legal challenge. The Supreme Court required the British Columbia College of Teachers to approve TWU’s teacher education program, despite the BCCT’s concern over TWU’s religious beliefs.

The line-up of speakers for the conference included Bob Kuhn, lead counsel who appeared at the Supreme Court of Canada for Trinity Western University in TWU’s successful challenge.

“There are a huge number of religious freedom cases before the courts right now,” says Janet Epp Buckingham, PhD, general legal counsel for the EFC who spoke on tolerance and religion at the conference.

“Religious freedom is an area where serious, respectful dialogue needs to occur between people of various faith perspectives,” says Chamberlain. “This conference provided a wonderful impetus for that. We need to do more.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,000 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2007-09-26