Wheaton loosens restrictions on dancing, drinking, and smoking after discovering legal requirement
At 2,025 words, Wheaton College's new "Community Covenant" is three-and-a-half times longer than the 578-word "Statement of Responsibilities" it replaces. But what was removed from the Statement of Responsibilities will attract the most attention.
Announced Monday, the Community Covenant drops the school's ban on "most forms of social dancing" and allows faculty, staff, and graduate students to consume alcohol and tobacco.
"We initially undertook the job of reviewing the [Statement of Responsibilities] with the intent of changing as little as possible," trustee Bud Knoedler says in a letter from college President Duane Litfin. "We quickly found that, when you begin to 'tweak' a 30-year-old policy, you quickly run into huge changes in culture and attitudes among evangelical Christians, both on and off campus, as well as vastly different student attitudes, needs and pressures. In addition, we found it necessary to address several legal issues, which are totally new to us since the present [Statement of Responsibilities] was written. We quickly realized that a total rewrite seemed inevitable, and necessary."
The largest legal issue is the 1991 Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, Litfin explains. The state law says businesses can't discriminate against applicants or employees if "the individual uses lawful products off the premises of the employer during non-working hours." If a ban on drinking and smoking was a "matter of clear and consistent religious requirement," Litfin says, the school might have been able to claim an exemption. "But short of such an ironclad argument, no such prohibition appears to be legal under ...1