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CSL allows for religious exemption from nondiscrimination policy

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 08:12


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The CSL announced a new policy that will give student religious groups the opportunity to seek exemption from the university’s nondiscrimination policy.


A new university policy will allow student religious groups, including Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), to request University Chaplaincy permission for religious exemption from the university’s nondiscrimination clause in choosing their leaders when applying for Tufts Community Union (TCU) recognition.

The procedure was announced yesterday as an official resolution in the appeal case that TCF brought to the Committee on Student Life (CSL) after the TCU Judiciary voted in October to derecognize the group. 

The new policy changes the guidelines for the Judiciary’s group recognition process to allow religious groups to argue for “justified departures from the Tufts nondiscrimination policy” in their leadership decisions for Chaplaincy-approved religious reasons.

The decision also allows TCF to remain “conditionally recognized” — without the rights to apply for TCU Senate funding — while it reapplies for recognition under the new guidelines within 60 days.

The CSL, chaired this year by Associate Professor of Biology Philip Starks and senior Rebecca Spiewak, is a body of faculty members and students whose responsibilities include hearing appeals of decisions handed down by the Judiciary. 

The CSL was asked at the beginning of last month to hear and make a ruling in the TCF appeal case after the Judiciary removed the evangelical Christian group’s TCU recognition status because clauses in its constitution violated the TCU Constitution’s nondiscrimination clause.

Its ultimate decision, over which the committee deliberated for the past month and released yesterday in an email to the student body, has two major clauses.


“The [Judiciary] followed its policy correctly in de-recognizing the TCF”

The decision first affirms the Judiciary’s vote in October to strip TCF of its status as a TCU-recognized group.

“Regarding the specific question of whether [TCUJ] acted inappropriately, we find no significant fault with the [Judicary],” the decision reads. “No human process is perfect, and while variation across decision processes should be minimized, it is our finding that the [Judiciary] followed its policy correctly in de-recognizing the TCF.”

The Judiciary made the initial decision in September to put TCF’s recognition status on hold following the annual spring semester group recognition period. 

During the process, by which the Judiciary reviews the policies and governing documents of all TCU recognized groups on campus, it found that a clause in TCF’s constitution requiring students assuming leadership positions to affirm their belief in a series of tenets called a Basis of Faith, or eight “basic Biblical truths of Christianity,” was exclusionary to students who do not hold these beliefs and violated the TCU Constitution’s nondiscrimination clause.

TCF made revisions to its constitution during the weeks that followed, but the revised version it sent to the Judiciary in October still contained faith-based requirements for leaders and was deemed to be in continued violation of the TCU Constitution.

Starks said that the committee had not found any fault with the Judiciary’s processes or standards and does not recommend any internal changes to the body.

“Justified departure”

While the CSL upholds the Judiciary’s decision to de-recognize TCF and denied the group’s appeal, it simultaneously allows TCF to remain “conditionally recognized,” which does not constitute de-recognition but also does not afford TCF the same rights as a recognized group.

The reapplication process, should TCF choose to participate without making changes to its constitution, would allow it to work with the University Chaplain — a position currently held ad interim by Rev. Patricia Budd Keppler — and the other chaplains who make up the Chaplaincy to develop a case for “justified departure” from the university’s nondiscrimination policy and bring that argument to the Judiciary.

“Any characteristic that deviates from Tufts’ nondiscrimination policies will need to be described very carefully,” Starks said. “They’ll need to be described [and] justified to the Chaplain.”

This process of establishing justified departure from the policy would only be required of TCF if the group keeps the constitution’s wording as it is now.

TCF also has the option of removing the clause requiring leaders to hold specified religious beliefs, thus freeing it to apply for TCU recognition without approval for “justified departure” from the Chaplaincy.

Senior Jessica Laporte, a member of TCF’s leadership team, said that removing the clause or otherwise altering their constitution to avoid having to apply for “justified departure” through the Chaplaincy is among the options TCF will consider, but that the leadership team has yet to decide how it will respond to the decision. 

“As of right now, we don’t have any specific plans,” Laporte said. 

  The new policy would allow TCF or any other religious group to attempt to prove to the Chaplaincy, and then to the Judiciary, that adherence to a particular set of religious beliefs is necessary as a criterion for leadership within the group even if the criterion violates the university nondiscrimination policy.

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