Tufts University Debates Fate of Campus Christian Group

A few days ago, I wrote about how the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) group at the University of Buffalo was suspended after forcing their treasurer to resign because he was gay. (They said the homosexuality had nothing to do with it; rather, the issue was that the student no longer believed the Bible was 100% true.) The school had a non-discrimination policy when it came to campus groups and IVCF had violated that policy; hence, the suspension.

Now, the same issue is playing out at Tufts University. In fact, it was the top story in yesterday’s independent student newspaper:

This process follows a Tufts Community Union (TCU) Judiciary complaint lodged by four students on Nov. 19, alleging that [Tufts Christian Fellowship's] constitution contradicts university policy by requiring that members of the Vision and Planning Team (VPT), its student leadership, uphold specified religious tenets.

It’s not the first time this issue has come up at Tufts. Back in 2000, one of the group’s staffers denied a student a leadership position within the organization because of her sexual orientation. TCF was placed on probation after that incident.

So what’s the issue now?

The issue is that the university’s policy says you can’t discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation. But IVCF’s policy says that all leaders must abide by “sexual chastity,” something that LGBT Community Representative Grainne Griffiths says is “applied unequally to straight and LGBT students”:

“Chastity is interpreted differently for straight people and queer people, being that if you’re straight you can still be chaste and have a typical romantic relationship, holding hands and stuff, but if you’re LGBTQ-identified, then no contact. You have to be celibate,” Griffiths said. “That shouldn’t be happening under a non-discrimination policy which protects sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

So which one should take precedence? University policy or IVCF policy?

It ought to be university policy — and that’s part of the problem. IVCF staffers — yep, they have six Christians whose full-time job it is to run this one campus group (Edit: Commenter B.H. says IVCF actually has two full-time staffers, one intern, and three volunteers) — have an “inappropriate level of influence” over the Tufts Christian Fellowship. They have no right to force their bigotry onto the group’s leadership, but they’re doing it anyway.

The university’s Chaplain, David O’Leary, is looking into the situation and he (or his successor) will soon make a decision about whether the Tufts Christian Fellowship can be recognized as an official student group.

There are really only two options: Either LGBT students will be allowed to take on leadership positions within the Christian group (staff concerns be damned) or Tufts will say goodbye to the TCF.

I vote for the latter. It’s not like any campus has a shortage of Christian groups. If one wants to break university rules, then it doesn’t deserve student-supported funding or meeting space.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726170419 Anonymous

    By the standard of “Not believing the bible is 100% true” no one could be a member of the group.  Given that the bible contradicts itself, not least in presenting two irreconcilable versions of Genesis, no one can claim that degree of faith.

    • Anonymous

      How dare you use logic and reason!

      Jokes. Your point is completely solid. One thing I want to know is why LGBT are so interesting in joining clubs in which members follow dogma that claims you’re a sinner or evil or whatever.

      Seems like a Jew wanting to join the Nazi party to me.

      • Anonymous

        Why would women want to join a club in which members follow (or at least must agree it’s “100% true”) dogma claims that you should be treated as chattel, forbidden from speaking in church, and must submit as a slave to your husband?

        • http://cousinavi.wordpress.com cousinavi

          Duh.  Because that’s hot.

          /no one gets my sense of humor

    • Nazani14

      If you think the bible is 100% true, why go to any college?

    • http://twitter.com/voxproveritate B.H.

      The dispute is over leadership, not membership.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726170419 Anonymous

    By the standard of “Not believing the bible is 100% true” no one could be a member of the group.  Given that the bible contradicts itself, not least in presenting two irreconcilable versions of Genesis, no one can claim that degree of faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726170419 Anonymous

    By the standard of “Not believing the bible is 100% true” no one could be a member of the group.  Given that the bible contradicts itself, not least in presenting two irreconcilable versions of Genesis, no one can claim that degree of faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726170419 Anonymous

    By the standard of “Not believing the bible is 100% true” no one could be a member of the group.  Given that the bible contradicts itself, not least in presenting two irreconcilable versions of Genesis, no one can claim that degree of faith.

  • Anonymous

    Still unsure why groups whose primary purpose is to proselytize are given university funds at all. Besides, there’s the whole mixed-fabric and eating shellfish problem that TCF is ignoring.

  • Anonymous

    Still unsure why groups whose primary purpose is to proselytize are given university funds at all. Besides, there’s the whole mixed-fabric and eating shellfish problem that TCF is ignoring.

  • Anonymous

    Still unsure why groups whose primary purpose is to proselytize are given university funds at all. Besides, there’s the whole mixed-fabric and eating shellfish problem that TCF is ignoring.

  • Anonymous

    Still unsure why groups whose primary purpose is to proselytize are given university funds at all. Besides, there’s the whole mixed-fabric and eating shellfish problem that TCF is ignoring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Me likes some sabotage. Do most universities have these sexual discrimination policies? If so it looks like a great way to stop so many of these bigoted Christian campus groups from getting university funding. Either the university has to cut their funding or strike away anti-gay policy. I love to see the Christian privilege getting challenged. Even better when combined with the irony of them crying discrimination when their official recognition and funding is cut due to their own discrimination.

    • AtheistJumbo

      The TCF
      constitution says that they don’t discriminate. Quoting from the Tufts
      Daily article:

      “Article IV of TCF’s
      constitution dictates that the group does not “discriminate on the
      grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin, age,
      sexual orientation, disability or an individual’s previous affiliations
      in criteria for membership, assignment of voting privileges or rank.”"

      This is in line with university policy, which states “[All students may] Participate in any TCU-recognized organization without
      discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender
      identity and expression, national or ethnic origin, age, sexual
      orientation, disability, or an individual’s previous affiliations in
      criteria for membership, assignment of voting privileges, or rank,
      except as otherwise provided by federal or state law or university
      policy.”

      So yeah, they are going to have some explaining to do. Tufts is generally very LGBT-”accepting” (as in the same way you would be accepting of pistachio ice cream eaters), so I imagine this isn’t going to fly well with the rest of campus or the administration.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QPVVPRJ7QKLPU6TF5B4IZTENTI No

    Anyone else waiting for the shoe to drop when the university asks IVCF what the specific doctrinal differences are that catalyzed as action resulting in Jackson’s resignation? But, IVCF could play coy and say it’s a matter of faith…to which the university could ask, “Well if it’s so personal, why is IVCF even involved?” Guaranteed we’re going to see a god bit of foot shuffling by IVCF to try and explain away Jackson’s resignation while keeping him out. Hopefully the university wins.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      “god bit” – Freudian slip? ;-D

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      “god bit” – Freudian slip? ;-D

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QPVVPRJ7QKLPU6TF5B4IZTENTI No

        More like a Bluetooth keyboard that doesn’t pay attention…but that slip works either way. =)

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      “god bit” – Freudian slip? ;-D

    • Erp

      It doesn’t matter what the doctrinal difference is, just that they have one as a test that puts them in the wrong.  The group is not allowed to discriminate on grounds of religion.    The group cannot prevent someone from joining or for standing for office (providing they meet neutral standards like actually being a student or attending a certain number of meetings).  The members still have a vote and at that point they as individuals can discriminate.  They possibly, if their constitution allows, could have a recall vote on an officer and that might be legit.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QPVVPRJ7QKLPU6TF5B4IZTENTI No

    Anyone else waiting for the shoe to drop when the university asks IVCF what the specific doctrinal differences are that catalyzed as action resulting in Jackson’s resignation? But, IVCF could play coy and say it’s a matter of faith…to which the university could ask, “Well if it’s so personal, why is IVCF even involved?” Guaranteed we’re going to see a god bit of foot shuffling by IVCF to try and explain away Jackson’s resignation while keeping him out. Hopefully the university wins.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QPVVPRJ7QKLPU6TF5B4IZTENTI No

    Anyone else waiting for the shoe to drop when the university asks IVCF what the specific doctrinal differences are that catalyzed as action resulting in Jackson’s resignation? But, IVCF could play coy and say it’s a matter of faith…to which the university could ask, “Well if it’s so personal, why is IVCF even involved?” Guaranteed we’re going to see a god bit of foot shuffling by IVCF to try and explain away Jackson’s resignation while keeping him out. Hopefully the university wins.

  • Annaigaw

    Daniel Dennet is faculty at Tufts University. I’m sure he could give them some sound advice. Clearly any organization that accepts student funding cannot discriminate against members of that student body. This has already been upheld by the courts.

  • Gus Snarp

    What are these Christian groups so afraid of? If a Christian wants to join an SSA, they’re welcome. If they want to join an LGTB club, they’re welcome, they just can’t promote hate at the same time. They can even be elected to leadership positions, although they’d certainly have to be an unusual Christian to win that vote. So why are they afraid that gay people and heathens are infiltrating to the top leadership of their organizations? A gay man gets elected treasurer? So what, live with it and if the membership wants to vote him out next time, they will, otherwise, maybe you should listen to your membership. Just take the line out of the constitution of your organization, we’re really not out to subvert you, you won’t be flooded with godless gays. Why are they so paranoid? And yes, if they won’t change the constitution, then they should no longer be an officially recognized organization.

    At my alma mater the Christian groups outnumber the atheist groups at least 10 to 0. LGBT groups exist, but they’re still outnumbered by Christians. So losing one group that can’t stop being discriminatory isn’t going to leave anyone without the opportunity for Christian fellowship.

  • Michael

    This is a similar story to one that happened (is still happening?) at Vanderbilt University.  In response to Gus, the fear was “Vanderbilt is forcing their views on christian groups” and “we’ll be infiltrated by [add your favorite group] and taken over”.  Those thoughts blew my mind.  These non-discriminatory practices do more to protect group members than anything else.  They should be welcoming the protection.  Fear mongering.  Gotta love it.

    • Anonymous

      It is the Church’s practice to infiltrate and overtake (Native Americans, Hispanic cultures, pagans, etc.), so of course they are afraid others will do the same to them.  If someone accuses others of something, it’s usually because they, themselves, are guilty of that.  What the Christian groups do not understand is that we do not want to overtake them (well, not all of us anyway).  We just want them to be inclusive and accept others, not because the others are forcing their way in but because the others would be welcomed.

      • napoleonsolo

        It is the Church’s practice to infiltrate and overtake (Native Americans, Hispanic cultures, pagans, etc.)

        More apt examples would be school boards, Congress, state legislatures, etc. 

  • Steve

    How can there be a blanket Christian fellowship? According to Wikipedia, there may be as many as 38,000 sects/denominations worldwide – many of which believe that the adherents of ALL the others are going straight to Hell… If they want to hang out with the other ‘Christians’ why don’t they just go to an appropriate local church? Surely one would not find the Catholics, Baptists, and followers of Fred Phelps all cozying up to each other at one of these campus groups. And, I fail utterly, to understand why anyone who is Gay would want to hang out with either these retarded Christians (or Republicans, for that matter).

  • sam573

    There seems to be a fault, albeit a minor one, in your article.  The University Chaplain cannot de-recognize Tufts Christian Fellowship.  He is merely conducting an inquiry.  The body that actually decides on the fate of TCF is the Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ), which is the judicial branch of the undergraduate student government at Tufts.  Also, the punishment for TCF, if the Judiciary finds the group responsible for at least some of the charges, could range from probation and/or changes to their constitution to de-recognition.

    That being said, if the University Chaplain’s inquiry concludes that TCF is violating University policy, that will probably influence the decision of the Judiciary.

  • Jfigdor

    This is deeply embarassing for Tufts. Tufts is a good, well-regarded school. There is no need for discrimination and homophobia at such a fine institution. Fare thee well, Tufts Christian Fellowship. If Tufts wants to be taken seriously as a institution of higher learning, on par with MIT and Harvard, they would do well to enforce their university’s non-discrimination agreement.

  • Frank Bellamy

    There is no indication in the article that TCF’s policy is a result of hatred against anyone. I have known a number of christians, some of them members of IVCF chapters at other schools, who really do love the sinner and hate the sin. It is possible to be morally opposed to homosexuality without being prejudiced against homosexuals, and nothing in this article leads me to doubt that that is what is going on in TCF.

    Can somebody explain how Tufts revoking recognition from TCF would be different from private religious schools that refuse recognition to atheist student groups (I’m thinking University of Dayton here, amongst others)? Universities are supposed to support all student groups expressing all views, however consistent or inconsistent those student groups’ views may be with the universities moral stance. If TCF wants to condition leadership on particular moral beliefs and practices, that should be their decision, there should be no consequences from Tufts for it. If there are gay christians at Tufts who want to be in christian group with a different moral stance on homosexuality, one probably exists already, and if it doesn’t they are welcome to start one and get the same university support for it.

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps it is “ possible to be morally opposed to homosexuality without being prejudiced against homosexuals,” but kicking someone out of their office just for being gay is an example of prejudice.   
      The difference between Tufts and a private religious school doing this is money. If they receive federal funds, they have to abide by federal law on the matter.

      • Frank Bellamy

        TCF (like many other groups, including atheist groups, college democrats, pro-choice and pro-life groups, civil liberties groups, etc) is a group explicitly dedicated to advancing a particular viewpoint. It is not prejudice to ask that a person hold the viewpoint the group advances in order to be a leader in the group.

        There is absolutely no federal law that says that universities have to deny funding to student groups like this. There is federal law that says that universities have to treat christian groups on the same terms as all other student groups.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, exactly. Xtian groups do have to adhere to the same standards as everyone else. This issue is the assertion that this was done in regards to his sexual preference, which is illegal. Maybe it wasn’t? I don’t know.

          • Frank Bellamy

            I don’t know why you think federal law somehow prohibits university recognized student groups from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. I’m nearly certain that there is no such law.

            The university isn’t requiring any of the other sorts of groups I mentioned to give leadership positions to people who disagree with what those groups advocate, yet they might require that of the christan group? that isn’t equal treatment.

    • TheBlackCat

      They are allowed to express whatever views they want, they just aren’t allowed to restrict membership or leadership positions on certain grounds, religion and sexual orientation being two of those grounds.  If the person has enough support to get elected, they cannot be denied on those grounds.

      That is the difference.  An atheist group can and should exist, but they cannot have a clause in their constitution saying that only atheists can be members or only atheists can be in leadership positions.  A hindu group cannot have a clause in their constitution barring muslims from membership or leadership positions or vice versus.  A feminist group cannot ban men from leadership positions, or vice versus.  A NAACP group cannot ban whites from leadership positions. 

      On the other hand, a squash appreciate group cannot ban zucchini eaters from positions of leadership.  An Apple fan group can ban Microsoft, Android, or Linux users from leadership positions. 

      Religion, gender, race, and sexual orientation are often used as targets for discrimination in our society, so they are afforded special protection.  Taste in food, clothes brand preferences, cell phone OS preferences, and what side of the bed you like to wake up on are not, so they don’t need special protection.

      • TheBlackCat

        Sorry, that should be “a squash appreciate group CAN ban zucchini eaters from positions of leadership”

      • Frank Bellamy

        There are a couple of problems with your argument. Firstly, TCF, like many student groups, effectively appoints its leaders, it does not elect them. So the point about having enough support to get elected is meaningless, people are either given leadership positions or they aren’t.

        Secondly, one cannot separate leadership positions in a group from the group’s ability to advocate its message. If the college democrats are led by republicans, then they aren’t democrats and won’t advocate for democratic principles. If the LGBT group is led by homophobes, it isn’t an LGBT group and won’t advocate for gay rights or provide a community to LGBT students. And if the christian group is led by hindus, muslims, or atheists, then it isn’t a christian group. To say that these groups must accept as leaders people who disagree with the positions they are organized around is to say that these groups do not have a right to exist, and denying these groups the right to exist would both undermine the universities purposes in supporting student groups and violate the freedom of expression.

        To be clear, I am only talking about leadership here, I agree that groups generally should not be able to restrict who attends their meetings or events on these grounds.

        • TheBlackCat

          There are three problems here:

          1. You were complaining about the rule specifically singling out Christians, when it wasn’t, it was being applied consistently.  You are now moving the goalposts.

          2. This person was a member of the group in question, and did agree with their beliefs almost completely.  He was fired for a disagreement on one specific issue, rather than being totally at odds with their goals.  They even knew he was when he was elected or appointed or whatever, they just didn’t think he would act on it.  So this isn’t even the case of someone who is opposed to a group joining the group, it is the case of someone who strongly supports the group joining it when the group knew full well his stance on this issue.

          3. You are bringing up a hypothetical scenario that, to the best of my knowledge, has never come close to happening.  If people were actually joining groups in this way you might have an argument, but they don’t.

          We have to live in the real world here.  We need to balance real-world costs and benefits, rather than hypothetical ones.  In the real world, these sorts of rules are needed to protect groups that are often the subject of discrimination, and they aren’t used to any significant degree to sabotage groups.

          Heck, I could almost understand if a group that was solely dedicated to opposing homosexuality wanted to ban homosexuals from their leadership.  But that is a small part of what this group is about.  If the group wants to change to be the “anti-gay club”, they might have an argument, but that was not the case here.  It is supposed to be a more general group.

          • Frank Bellamy

            Who the hell are you to tell them what their group is about? How much a position on homosexuality matters to their group’s message is their decision to make. They can define their own group’s message however they want, that is what freedom of expression is about.

            1. As I pointed out, the goalposts have to be moved for any group that advocates a position, not just christians. One of the point of a university supporting student groups is to create a forum for expression, and that can’t work if groups can’t decide for themselves what messages to express.

            2. I think you are thinking of the case at the University at Buffalo, and I will admit that that one is a little less clear because of the sequence of events there. Here, at Tufts, no gay person was ever let into the leadership of the group. They have been entirely consistent and upfront about their position.

            3. As I pointed out, a very similar sort of things has been done by christian universities to atheist groups, for example, at the University of Datyon. They effectively refuse the group recognition because it doesn’t agree with the values of the larger university community. Well, people who disagree with the larger university community about fundamental values are especially in need of their own little community within the university, and that is what these groups are there for. That applies both at Tufts and Dayton.

            Your argument is just as dependent on people seeking leadership positions in groups they don’t agree with as mine is. .If people aren’t doing that, then there is no actual discrimination going on. If people who think homosexuality is not a sin weren’t seeking to join and become leaders in evangelical christian groups, then these issues would never come up. That four Tufts students did complain to their administration about the TCF policy is proof that such people do exist.

            • Jfigdor

              Hey Frank, good comment. However, it seems that the Tufts group is in contradiction with the University’s (almost more important) non -discrimination agreement. If gay students can’t serve as TCU officers, then what about black people or women. I imagine title 9 should supercede here, but I’m not the attorney in training here. 

              • Jfigdor

                Grammar fail. I meant, “If gay students can’t serve as TCU officers, then what about black people or women.?”

  • Anonymous

    The chaplaincy is considering student concerns on this? Is Tufts an Xtian college? Why would the chaplaincy have any authority over student groups? Isn’t that a little like putting a Catholic bishop in charge of investigating pedophilia accusations?

    Ah- Sam573 above cleared that up. Thanks for the additional info.

    • Erp

      Besides what Sam573 said,  the Tufts chaplaincy investigation may be more of a worry for the TCF than a support as I suspect it is quite liberal (the university was founded by the Universalists [who later merged with the Unitarians] and though the current chaplain is Catholic, many  previous ones have been UU and one at least reputably atheist).   Or maybe not if they want to sweep things under the rug.

  • Scifisyko

    Sometimes I am so wonderfully proud of my alma mater~

  • Erp

    Effectively the club’s current leadership appoints the next leaders; however, one thing the university seems to be investigating is whether the student members are making the decision or whether outsiders (e.g., the non-student staff or the national organization) are decision makers.   I know from my own university that student groups are suppose to be run by the students and that non-students making decisions for the group such as choosing leaders or vetoing possible choices is not permitted. 

  • http://twitter.com/voxproveritate B.H.

    If I may interject, Mr. Mehta, there are only 2 full time IVCF staff members at Tufts University. There are three additional volunteers who donate a couple hours a week, and one intern.

    • Hemant

      I’ve put in an edit. Thanks!


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