Tough to understand Tufts evangelicals

The Boston Globe reported last week on an evangelical student group at Tufts University facing the potential loss of its funding:

In a collision between religious freedom and nondiscrimination codes, Tufts University is considering whether an evangelical Christian student group should be stripped of its official status for requiring that its leaders adhere to the faith, saying it violates school policies against religious discrimination.

An arm of the student government recently voted to withdraw recognition of the Tufts Christian Fellowship because its constitution requires that its leaders celebrate “the basic biblical truths of Christianity.”

That provision violates the nondiscrimination clause that governs student groups, student leaders said. The group has appealed the decision to a faculty committee. If the ruling is upheld, the group would lose its funding and permission to use the college’s name.

The ruling has drawn an angry reaction from religious and First Amendment groups and been panned as political correctness run amok.

It’s a mostly adequate story that seems to go out of its way to present both sides.

Nonetheless, I found myself wanting to know more about the evangelical students involved. Part of the problem seems to be that no one from the group was willing to talk, at least on the record:

A leader of the Tufts group, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid scrutiny from the news media and students, said the issue has broad ramifications for how religious groups can govern themselves.

“The question facing our campus is, ‘How do we handle religious groups? Is there a religious caveat?” the student asked. “We think it’s important to have clarity.”

For all the broad issues covered in the story, little details slip through the cracks. For example, how many students are involved in the group? How much funding does the group stand to lose? And how big a minority are evangelicals on this campus?

The Globe gives the impression that most students support yanking the group’s funding:

On campus, many students agreed with the decision to strip the group of its status. Sophia Laster, who belongs to a campus coalition against religious exclusion, said she believes some members of the Christian group believe homosexuality is morally wrong.

Be honest: Does anything about how that second sentence is phrased make anyone else chuckle?

The story ends this way:

Parker Heyl, another student, said the group should be punished if it violated the antidiscrimination policy. Heyl, a Catholic, belongs to Tufts Hillel, the college’s Jewish organization, because he likes its commitment to community service.

“The club didn’t even blink an eye when I said I was Christian,” Heyl said.

Image of Goddard Chapel at Tufts University via Shutterstock

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Julia

    Looks like this is to be a social club only, judging by the Catholic guy saying he belongs to the Jewish group because of service projects.
    It seems like there are 1st amendment trends in collision.
    One the one hand are those who think religion has its freedom only for Sunday morning “worship”.
    The other position holds that religion on campus should be restricted to “service”.

  • Jen G.

    Something that never seems to be asked by journalists in these cases – in any of the groups on campus is there someone who vocally or visibly does not adhere to the group’s central identifying purpose in a leadership position? The Catholic student may belong to the Jewish student group, but would he be allowed as President? How about a Luddite as a leader of the Computer Club? Republican head of the Young Democrats, etc? Does this not occur because groups self-exclude from leadership members who do not fit the main profile? Do other groups find ways of keeping their central focus in their charter that the Evangelical group could use instead? Are there legitimate fears of a leadership takeover from the Evangelical group that would drift it away from it’s intent? Has that happened before and, if so, were there ways for the displaced to easily reform or did the college step in at any point?

    • Will

      Or someone who believes that homosexual behavior is wrong as president of the Gay Student Alliance?

  • JoFro

    Seriously?! How is this discrimination? As Jen G. said, its one thing to belong to a religious club if you are not a follower of the faith, it is another thing to be allowed to become President – what idiocy is this?

  • Joe

    Fascinating that a club, exclusionary by nature, must become a paragon of inclusion. Perhaps the school shouldn’t fund clubs. Maybe they need a Student Body Service Club that can receive all the funding.


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