Tufts Christian Fellowship, after being officially ostracized for refusing to allow an admitted homosexual to hold a leadership position, was notified yesterday by university officials that the group’s organization status and funding have been fully restored.
The decision came by unanimous vote of the
Committee on Student
Life, a faculty and student governing body that reviews campus judiciary decisions.
The vote was taken Monday night, during a lengthy meeting in which the 11 committee members discussed an appeal by Tufts Christian Fellowship of the
Tufts Community Union Judiciary’s decision to strip the group of its funding and official club status.
The Tufts Community Union Judiciary had made its decision to “de-recognize” the club in a secret, midnight meeting because the Christian club’s leaders would not allow an avowed lesbian to hold a leadership position.
TCF is an inter-denominational Christian student group comprising about 70 students. It is affiliated with
Fellowship, a national campus ministry present at over 550 campuses with over 34,000 students and faculty involved. TCF, which has existed at Tufts University since 1960 — until its de-recognition in April — is one of the most active and largest religious groups at Tufts University.
As reported in WorldNetDaily, the original judgment meant the club could no longer refer to itself as “Tufts Christian Fellowship,” it was stripped of its student organization funding, meetings were no longer allowed to be held in regularly reserved rooms and the group could not advertise its meetings or events on campus.
The TCUJ’s decision was prompted by a complaint against the Christian club by Julie Catalano, who claimed she had been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.
Catalano sought a leadership position within TCF and asserted her belief that homosexual practice is a biblically acceptable lifestyle. Current leaders in the club, who choose leaders for the next academic year, did not consider Catalano, saying her beliefs do not reflect the “religious tradition” of the group.
TCF appealed the midnight decision — made without notice to or representation of the group — and won.
“We are very grateful that Tufts has decisively restored religious freedom to the campus,” said Curtis Chang, affiliate chaplain at Tufts and campus minister to TCF.
Thor Halvorssen, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also expressed his relief at the decision.
“We are delighted and relieved that the TCF does not have to seek shelter in catacombs beneath the Tufts campus,” he said. “This is a victory for everyone who values genuine pluralism. Tufts has stepped back, for now at least, from the immorality of a double standard that would have forced the TCF to violate its own beliefs in voting for officers,” said Halvorssen.
FIRE initiated a campaign to reverse the TCUJ’s ruling, saying it struck at the heart of the freedom of religious association and that it created a double standard unique to Christians.
Halvorssen’s group circulated a petition, representing more than 150 professors from across the country and across the political and religious spectrum, calling for the “restoration of religious freedom to the Tufts campus.” The petition reached the committee a few hours before its meeting Monday.
Halvorssen criticized Tufts’ president, John DiBiaggio, for ignoring TCF’s situation and for failing to speak out against the university’s double standard.
|Tufts President John DiBiaggio was criticized by FIRE and media outlets for ignoring the plight of Tufts Christian Fellowship.|
DiBiaggio’s office issued a statement, saying, “it would be inappropriate for the administration to comment on the case.”
“It is unthinkable that the Tufts president would have permitted the banning of a politically correct campus group for acting on its values in choosing leaders,” he said. “This would not have happened to the Tufts Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Collective for taking into account an evangelical’s views of sexual orientation. The administration would have led candlelight vigils and spoken in favor of tolerance and the rights of voluntary association.”
Tufts Christian Fellowship student leaders expressed relief that they can remain on campus as a fully legitimate group.
TCF student leader Sarah Janson declared, “We are so glad we can worship Jesus on campus in the fall, and we invite everyone of every sexual orientation to join us.”
Graduating senior Chin Park exclaimed, “I can now walk in this week’s commencement exercises proudly as a Christian who belongs here!”
Students emphasized they can now focus on carrying out the group’s mission.
“We’re not a group hung up about demanding this or that right,” explained TCF member Ohene Asare. “We’re about sharing the love of God with everyone at Tufts.”
Asare also voiced hope for reconciliation with Julie Catalano, who filed the complaint that led to the derecognition of TCF.
“We’ve always welcomed her as a member regardless of her orientation,” said Asare. “She’s our friend, and we hope she’ll come back.”
In addition to reconciling relations with Catalano, the group seeks to prevent such an ordeal in the future.
“We look forward to working with the administration to ensure that all the values in play can be safeguarded,” said Chang.
One member of the student judiciary told FIRE it was “highly unlikely” TCF would again be the victim of double standards and legal inequality.
“This issue is dead in the water,” the student said.
But despite TCF’s victory, the issue is very much alive on other college campuses. In what appears to be a growing trend, similar accusations of discrimination have been made at colleges across the country.
Ball State University,
Grinnell College have all taken steps to exclude their evangelical groups by adopting language and policies aimed at forbidding groups to live out their religious beliefs on homosexuality.
At Middlebury, the evangelical group has had its funding frozen.
In 1997, Grinnell College in Iowa de-recognized its evangelical group.
Whitman College in Washington State followed soon after and banned its evangelical group.
FIRE has vowed to continue its efforts in securing the groups’ rights.
Phil Evans, spokesperson for InterVarsity, expressed hope that the trend will be reversed.
“These other schools should look at Tufts and realize what’s obvious — that Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs.”
See Rev. Jerry Falwell’s column: