Christian Group Fights Ouster at Tufts Over Gay Student Flap

April 20, 2000

The Washington Times

A Christian student group at Tufts University has been banned from using campus facilities and stripped of university funding after it refused to consider a lesbian member for a senior leadership position.

The Tufts Community Union Judiciary, an elected student group that decides student grievances at the private Medford, Mass., school, voted in an emergency meeting last week to “de-recognize” the Tufts Christian Fellowship for violating the school’s policy against discrimination in student organizations.

The vote came after junior Julie Catalano, who is homosexual, filed a formal complaint on April 9, saying she was denied a leadership role in the Christian group, which she claims violates the school’s constitution.

Miss Catalano, who could not be reached for comment, was a member of the Christian group for close to three years before leaving at the end of March.

Leaders of the Christian student group have appealed the decision and have hired a lawyer. They are urging Tufts administrators to overturn the ruling, which they say could have a chilling effect on the rights of other religious groups on campus, several of which also believe that homosexuality is wrong.

“The Tufts Community Union Judiciary has essentially acted to legislate religion on campus,” said Curtis Chang, an affiliate chaplain for the Tufts Christian Fellowship and Boston-area director for the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. “The TCUJ ruling will inevitably lead to all sorts of religious persecution towards numerous groups.”

Mr. Chang said the Tufts Christian Fellowship was not “homophobic” and did not deny Miss Catalano the right to attend the meetings and be an active participant. In fact, he said, they encouraged her to attend. Her beliefs, however, are contrary to those of his Christian group, and for that reason, members believe she should not be appointed as a leader who sets policy.

“TCF’s religious tradition, which might be described by some as evangelical or conservative Christian, believes the Bible is clear on the topic of homosexual practice,” he said. “It is listed along with a long list of practices that are deemed to not be in accord with God’s wishes for human relationships. To compel the senior leadership of TCF to affirm the leadership of someone who advocates and/or practices an active homosexual lifestyle would be to deny us the right to practice our religion.”

A student-faculty panel will hear the appeal next week. Tufts spokeswoman Cindy Pollard said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the matter until the judiciary process is complete.

“This particular case is extremely complex, as it involves both religious rights and the rights of individuals not to be discriminated against for their beliefs,” she said. “The intersection of these two fundamental rights go beyond the university setting and well into the broader American culture and conscience.”

Thor Halvorssen, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says at stake is the concept of voluntary association, particularly when it comes to religious groups. FIRE, he said, will be writing every member of the appeals board to ask them to “not let a double standard apply to a group simply because it is Christian.”

“The very idea of American pluralism depends on voluntary associations based upon chosen religious and secular goals,” Mr. Halvorssen said. “You can’t expect a Christian fundamentalist group, or an Islamic group or a Catholic group not to follow their deeply held religious beliefs.”

“With this ruling, the Tufts student body has sent a message that it wants nothing to do with evangelical Christians,” said Mr. Halvorssen.

“If the TCUJ follows the same logic it applied to this Christian group, no less than 12 student groups and probably more would lose their funding and their right to meet on the Tufts campus, from the a cappella group, to the group Men Against Violence, including the gay group, the sororities, and the Arab Student Association.”

Mr. Chang agrees, citing the campus Islamic group, for example, which holds segregated worship services for men and women.

“If the TCUJ ruling is enforced uniformly and not in a highly selective manner that seeks to discriminate against TCF, then school officials must also prohibit Armenian Orthodox, African American Pentecostals, Korean Baptists and Chinese American Presbyterians, the entire Catholic Church, all Orthodox Jews, and all Muslims from being able to freely practice their religion,” Mr. Chang said.

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