The Deeper Problem With Crandall University

The deeper problem with Crandall University

by Kevin Kindred

The Crandall University story may seem, on the surface, like the oft-told tale of churches and their battles against queers. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll see how this one case raises tough questions about the relationship between law, religion, and government--questions that will continue to define the next phase of the the struggle for queer equality and liberation.

In a nutshell, the story is that Moncton’s Crandall University—which until recently was known as “Atlantic Baptist University”—requires its staff & faculty to abide by a “Statement of Moral Standards.” This Standard represents the University’s version of “Christian standards of behaviour,” which includes being truthful and honest, being respectful of one another, swearing off porn, avoiding the occult, and saving sex for your heterosexual marriage. Students and members of the public are upset about what’s being called an “anti-gay hiring policy.” (I guess the witches and porn fiends have to fend for themselves.)

Institutions like Crandall aren’t new—far from it. For most of Canada’s history, education has been provided by church-based institutions, with the homophobic policies that entails. As recently as 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that such institutions could continue to train our teachers and other professionals. However, Crandall and its ilk are certainly an anachronism in today’s world, where we’ve come to expect universities to be bastions of liberty, intellectual freedom, and (let's face it) good old-fashioned debauchery.

Is Crandall’s policy wrong? As a well-trained lawyer, I will stay away from such a vague and leading question. But is it legal? It’s a good question. Human rights law, including the New Brunswick Human Rights Code, gives some leeway to private religious institutions to discriminate in ways that other institutions could never get away with. So long as the policy relates to a belief which is fundamental to the institution’s religious mission, it might amount to a bona fide occupational requirement, which is allowed at law. It’s the same law that guarantees that the Catholic Church will never have to accept women as priests, or marry divorced couples.

Mind you, it might be hard to show that the belief is really fundamental to Crandall’s mission. As in cases where a Christian nursing home was forced to hire an openly gay woman, or a Catholic school was forced to allow Marc Hall to take his boyfriend to the prom, supposedly “religious” institutions can sometimes find that they have stumbled into the secular sphere by providing a service to the general public. If Crandall’s students show that the University doesn’t exclusively exist to serve the Baptist population, the school’s defence gets a lot weaker.

For my part, though, I’d be happy to let Crandall continue to serve its bigoted little Baptist community, and let the liberals and the gays (and the masturbators and the fortune-tellers) find their education in secular institutions. Crandall can take the rendering unto God part; I’ll be happy with the bits that have been rendered unto Caesar.

However, the New Brunswick government doesn’t allow us that secular luxury. By providing funds to Crandall as a post-secondary institution, they’ve allowed the lines between Church and state to be blurred. The tax dollars of New Brunswick citizens—Baptists and Catholics, Muslims, Jews and atheists—are supporting an institution that requires its staff to treat gay sex as contrary to the “common good.”

The Deeper Problen With Crandall University

by Kevin Kindred (Written especially for Wayves)

Cutting off public funds, though, isn’t an entirely satisfactory response. Anglophone students will claim—rightly—that Crandall is one of the few places for New Brunswickers to attain a liberal arts education within a reasonable budget. Just as some provinces have done with their religious public schools, New Brunswick continues to fail its citizens by relying on Church institutions to fill the void in the education system.

If every student is going to have the opportunity to learn in an environment that encourages equality and intellectual freedom, then our supposedly secular governments have to step up to the plate and support a true, affordable secondary education system. If religious institutions like Crandall continue to be the only realistic options for many students, then queer students and teachers and their allies will have to choose between a quality education system, and their right to live free and equal lives.

Anti-gay institutions like Crandall play a role in public life only because Canadian public policy hasn’t yet fully grasped the separation of church and state. When our governments shake off these historical cobwebs and start taking seriously the need to provide citizens with public services on a secular basis, we won’t have to keep asking whether universities like Crandall should be allowed to discriminate. Homophobic religious institutions will then be able to crawl off into their little corners, serving their own dwindling congregations, while Canadian society leaves them in our dust.

Kevin Kindred is an activist for secularism and queer rights, working out of Nova Scotia. He was recently elected as Chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, a position he held previously from 2005 to 2009. This article was written by request specially for Wayves.

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