MEDFORD, Mass. – Student religious groups should not have to appoint leaders who do not share their beliefs, a student judiciary at Tufts University announced Dec. 5.
It was a big victory for a Christian group on campus that had lost official recognition in October.
Like several other private colleges, Tufts has an “all comers” policy that requires official student organizations to be open to all students for both membership and leadership, regardless of beliefs. But in reviewing a discrimination complaint filed against Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), the largest evangelical group on the Medford, Mass., campus, the Tufts Committee on Student Life decided unanimously the policy should not apply to leaders of religious groups.
“It is reasonable to expect that leaders within individual [religious groups] be exemplars of that particular religion,” the committee ruled. “Therefore, an ‘all comers’ policy for group leadership may not be appropriate for all [religious groups].”
Under the new policy, religious groups must remain open to all students for membership but can use doctrinal statements when selecting leaders.
Tufts Christian Fellowship lost it official recognition in October after members of the Tufts Coalition Against Religious Exclusion complained the group’s leadership requirements violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy. TCF members applauded the new policy in a statement released Dec. 6: “We appreciate that the Committee on Student Life recognizes that faith-based groups may need the freedom to use faith-based criteria in its leadership selection in order to remain consistent with the mission and beliefs of their faiths. We also appreciate the Committee’s desire to protect all students on campus by both affirming the nondiscrimination policy and defining its proper context and application for student religious groups.”
TCF will remain on suspension until the group submits a new application for recognition, which it intends to do immediately. The new policy requires the university chaplaincy to review applications for doctrinal justification for all departures from the nondiscrimination policy.
Like other campus groups affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, TCF requires student leaders to affirm statements of faith that include adherence to sexual purity. InterVarsity chapters on dozens of campuses, both public and private, have faced challenges during the last few years to their teachings on homosexuality.
Most public schools have affirmed the group’s right to operate freely. But many private schools, which are not bound by constitutional protections for religious freedom, have adopted policies that restrict Christian groups’ autonomy. Last year, Nashville’s Vanderbilt University adopted an “all-comers” policy that forced 15 evangelical Christian groups to sever ties with the school.
Leaders of campus ministries across the country feared other schools would follow Vanderbilt’s lead. But Tufts adopted a position of true tolerance by protecting religious groups on campus, said Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity: “We urge other universities like Vanderbilt University to rethink their positions.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Leigh Jones writes for WorldonCampus.com, where this story first appeared.)