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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.

The university’s nondiscrimination policy reads as follows:

“Tufts prohibits discrimination against and harassment of any [individual] because of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, including a transgender identity, genetics, veteran status ... and any other characteristic protected ... under applicable federal or state law.”

As part of the existing Judiciary recognition process, the Chaplaincy already reviews the constitutions of religious groups before they are allowed to apply for Judiciary recognition. 

The CSL decision also emphasizes that any groups applying for recognition from the Judiciary must continue to adhere to the university’s full nondiscrimination policy with respect to group membership.

Judiciary Chair Adam Sax, a senior, said that while it would be TCF’s responsibility to prove to the Chaplaincy that it deserves religious exemption, once it were to do so, the Judiciary would have the final say in their recognition status.

“If a religious group wants to implement this policy ... that group still has to be approved in the Judiciary to be a group in the first place,” Sax said. 

If TCF successfully works with the Chaplaincy to establish a “justified departure,” they would fall outside the university nondiscrimination policy and be able to keep the Basis of Faith in its constitution’s leadership requirements. If the Judiciary does not find any other problems outside of that clause, Sax said that TCF’s application for re-recognition would likely be approved. 

A unanimous vote

According to Starks, the 12 voting faculty and student members of the CSL unanimously supported the decision’s two major judgments — both that the Judiciary was correct in de-recognizing TCF and that this new exemption policy would adequately fill the void in policy regarding religious groups’ leadership positions.

Although the Judiciary originally found TCF’s constitutional clauses for leadership in violation of the TCU Constitution — the governing document for the TCU government, including the Senate and the Judiciary -— the CSL’s decision focuses only on religious groups’ relationship with the university-wide nondiscrimination policy.

The CSL combined the TCU Constitution and the university’s nondiscrimination policy in the interest of simplicity, according to Starks. While the TCU Constitution’s nondiscrimination clause is distinct from the university policy on discrimination, the constitution derives its language from Tufts’ policy, he explained.

“It all comes from the same tree,” Starks said. “The [Judiciary] policy cannot be in conflict with university policy.”

Should TCF choose to apply for re-recognition by the Judiciary and go through the process of justifying its deviation from the university’s nondiscrimination policy, the Judiciary will be expected to place an emphasis on clarity as it makes its decision, according to Starks.

“At that level, the [Judiciary] will be looking mostly for transparency and for whether or not that information is presented in a way that will be easily digestible by our student body,” Starks said. “The policy that we’re creating here really asks for transparency in any of these deviations from the nondiscrimination policy at Tufts.” 

A reasonable expectation

The new process for establishing “justified departure” is meant to serve as a compromise between the “reasonable” expectation that religious groups should be allowed to hold their leaders to certain belief standards and the university’s commitment to upholding its own policy of nondiscrimination, Starks said.

“In leadership positions, individuals are often required to be exemplars of a particular approach, and I think it’s natural then for a group built around a philosophy to expect that its leadership reflect that,” he said.

Laporte said that TCF is in favor of any decision that attempts to reach such a compromise.

  “We appreciate that the [CSL] 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,” she said. “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.” 

The process applies to any Chaplaincy-affiliated religious group that seeks recognition or re-recognition from the Judiciary from this point forward. 

If a religious group’s constitutional policy of selecting leaders based on religious doctrine is called into question by a member of the Tufts community or the Chaplaincy, however, it must receive approval from the Chaplaincy before it can apply or reapply for TCU recognition.

A chapter under fire

The Chaplaincy’s list of recognized religious organizations includes TCF as well as 16 others, including the Muslim Students Association, the Catholic Community at Tufts, the Latter Day Saints Student Association and the Tufts Freethought Society, which describes itself online as a “community of atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics and friends at Tufts.”

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