Victory At Tufts; Evangelical Christian Group Regains Recognition
May 16, 2000
MEDFORD, MA—In a unanimous vote, the Committee on Student Life, a faculty and student group that reviews campus judiciary decisions, voted last night to remand the charges against the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF). Thor Halvorssen, Executive Director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has been active in advising the students and exposing this case, said: "We are delighted and relieved that the TCF does not have to seek shelter in catacombs beneath the Tufts campus. 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. It also has stepped back from breach of contract, false advertising, and fraud."
Without a hearing, in a capricious late-night meeting on April 13, the Student Judiciary voted officially to "derecognize" the TCF, the equivalent of a banishment from the facilities of the Tufts campus. The Tufts evangelicals were punished for taking into account, for purposes of selecting leaders, the beliefs of a member whose views of Scripture and homosexuality were opposed to their own. For refusing to deny its identity and convictions, the TCF was stripped of funding, not permitted to use the Tufts name, not permitted to meet in any room that required a reservation, and not allowed to advertise or announce any of their events or meetings. At the time, a Tufts administrator in the Office of Student Activities told the group: "On the Tufts campus, you do not exist."
The TCF secured the pro bono legal representation of David French, a lecturer at Cornell University Law School. It also turned to various national groups for support and advice. FIRE initiated a campaign to reverse a ruling that strikes at the heart of the freedom of religious association and that creates a double standard unique to believing Christians. FIRE wrote to and had frank exchange with the Tufts administration, explained religious liberty to the Committee on Student Life, and circulated a petition that included more than 150 professors from across the country—and across the political and religious spectrum—who called for the restoration of religious freedom to the Tufts campus. The petition reached the committee a few hours before their meeting.
The banning of the TCF sparked intense national media interest and provoked some blistering editorials in several newspapers, critical of Tufts' president, John DiBiaggio, for ignoring the debacle and failing to speak out against the double standard. "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; 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," said Halvorssen; "the administration would have led candlelight vigils and spoken in favor of tolerance and the rights of voluntary association."
One member of the Student Judiciary told FIRE that it was "highly unlikely" that the TCF would again be the victim of double standards and legal inequality. "This issue is dead in the water," the student said.
Curtis Chang, affiliate chaplain at Tufts and campus minister for the TCF, was joyful when FIRE contacted him with the news of the committee's decision. Chang had spent the past four weeks working passionately to get the facts out to the world and to restore religious liberty at Tufts. Chang hopes embattled evangelical groups around the country will take heart from the victory at Tufts and stand up for religious freedom.
Evangelicals Still Under Attack at Ball State University,
Williams College, Middlebury, Grinnell, and Whitman College
In what appears to be a growing trend, similar accusations of discrimination have been made at colleges across the country. Ball State University, Williams College, and Middlebury College have taken steps to punish their evangelical groups by adopting language and policies aimed at forbidding groups to bear witness to politically incorrect views while choosing their leaders.
At Middlebury the evangelical group has had its funding frozen.
In 1997, Grinnell College in Iowa penalized an evangelical group for its views. The group is still "derecognized." Whitman College in Washington State followed soon after and banned its evangelical group. FIRE has vowed to continue to struggle for the rights of conscience, religious witness, and voluntary association on college campuses that promise freedom and legal equality.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonprofit educational foundation. FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, the rights of conscience, and religious liberty on our campuses.
Particularly relevant to the Tufts case, FIRE also struggles for due process, legal equality, and truth-in-advertising at America's colleges and universities. FIRE's website, http://www.thefire.org, provides documentation of and links to the Tufts case and explains FIRE's views of the assault on liberty and dignity in higher education.
Thor L. Halvorssen, FIRE: 215-717-3473,
Curtis Chang, Tufts Christian Fellowship: 617-625-2257,
John DiBiaggio, President, Tufts University: 617-627-3300,