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Editorial | CSL resolution unfairly prioritizes one fundamental right over others

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 10:12

In an email sent to the Tufts community yesterday afternoon, the Committee on Student Life (CSL) announced that it had crafted a new policy allowing for all student religious groups (SRGs) going forward to “justify on doctrinal grounds any departures from Tufts’ nondiscrimination policy ... that their leadership positions require.” This was in response to the Tufts Community Union Judiciary’s (TCUJ) derecognition of Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) in October due to “concerns that the TCF’s criteria for leaders violated Tufts University’s nondiscrimination policy.” In the future, the University Chaplain will review submitted proposals for exemption, and if approved, the SRG in question will be allowed to apply for recognition from the Judiciary — with any faith-based leadership criteria intact.

The CSL has emphasized that this new policy is meant to strike a balance between encouraging an atmosphere in which the university’s nondiscrimination policy can be upheld and providing for religious freedom on campus —  a right protected by that nondiscrimination policy. Yet the CSL’s policy, rather than promoting religious freedom, promotes religious exceptionalism. It serves as a loophole that essentially invalidates the nondiscrimination policy — we do not discriminate at Tufts, except when we do — and sets a dangerous precedent that may, down the road, allow for sidestepping of that policy.

The university’s nondiscrimination clause prohibits discrimination against individuals based on a range of attributes, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and, of course, religion. This policy is meant to not only create a harassment-free environment in which those of any identification are free to thrive, but also to encourage a diversity of experiences and voices on campus. But by establishing an avenue through which only SRGs can seek exemption from this policy, the CSL is conferring priority to a single group protected by Tufts’ nondiscrimination clause. It establishes that religious freedom is a right that holds priority over the right to freedoms that any other group protected by the clause could claim. In effect, the same rules no longer apply to those claiming that right.

Discrimination based on faith does not constitute a justifiable departure from the university’s policy when it elevates the status of religious freedom on this campus above all others. Regardless of TCF’s individual situation, providing for the possibility of an exception to a nondiscrimination policy is fundamentally antithetical to the purpose of a nondiscrimination policy. If this resolution is to be made permanent, then the university must seriously reconsider defining itself as a progressive institution.

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