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Letter to the Editor

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012 15:12


Dear Editor,

In the wake of last week’s decision by the Committee on Student Life (CSL) to institute a new policy wherein Chaplaincy-affiliated organizations may apply for a “religious exemption” from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) non-discrimination policy, I am compelled — by my dedication to pluralism and to upholding a welcoming campus environment — to make something abundantly clear:

As the president of the Tufts Freethought Society (TFS), a TCU Council IV Chaplaincy-affiliated student group, I can confidently say on behalf of the TFS executive leadership that Tufts Freethought has no intention to make use of this policy, and many of our members actively oppose it. We are a community group for nonreligious students, but we welcome, and have welcomed for a long time, religious and theistic students into our group of friends. Indeed, we currently have spiritual students on our executive board. Our commitment is to making a safer culture for the nonreligious, and doing programming to that end, not to segregating ourselves off from a largely religious society and drawing lines between our “in” group and those on the outside.

I myself identify as a nontheist Quaker, meaning I draw inspiration from the teachings and practices of the Friends community while maintaining an atheistic and humanistic worldview. Under the new CSL legislation, it is entirely plausible to imagine a leadership board of Tufts Freethought using the new CSL exemption to prevent me from holding office in TFS, according to “doctrinal justification” from various texts and teachings by atheist leaders. I have experienced criticism — almost entirely from various members of the atheist movement — for my commitment to pluralism, and in the past two years have observed our organization’s move from a community dedicated almost exclusively to debate and science to one where those elements are absolutely a part of our repertoire, but where social justice and working alongside religious organizations for dialogue and service have also taken a major role in our programming. This could easily not be possible under the new policy imposed on the student body. I could well be left without the community that has been central to my experience and growth as a student at Tufts and the loving friendships that have supported me so greatly. 

Tufts Freethought will not be utilizing this CSL policy to define our community’s spiritual and moral preferences for them. This new legislation is an affront to the very freedom of religion that allows groups like ours to exist — it gives elites the power to define institutions, rather than those constituencies that the institutions claim to represent. The CSL claimed that this would be a policy universal to religious organizations on campus, but it does not represent us. It is insulting that they would assume all the religious communities on campus would find useful a loophole for discrimination like the one they’ve implemented.


Walker Bristol

Class of 2014  

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