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THE HARVARD UNDERGRADUATE COUNCIL was working its way through a night of routine business last November when sophomore Jason Lurie, an officer of the Harvard Secular Society and a member of the council, dropped his bombshell. Did the Undergraduate Council realize, he asked, that it was approving grants to openly discriminatory organizations?

The organizations were the more than 50-year-old Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF) and the much newer Harvard Asian Baptist Student Koinonia (ABSK). Clauses in their constitutions specified that their leaders—though not their members—must affirm an evangelical Christian statement of faith.

The council's policy did not support groups that "discriminate on the basis of ancestry, nationality, creed, philosophy, economic disadvantage, physical disability, mental illness or disorders, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity."

Before Lurie spoke up, no one had ever put the two policies together: "Unless a student is Christian, he or she may not be an officer of HRCF," Lurie said. "This rule is indisputably discriminatory."

Council members, taken aback, postponed their decision and effectively turned matters over to David P. Illingworth, an associate dean who oversees extracurricular groups. Illingworth, an affable Harvard insider who happens to be an ordained Episcopal priest, told The Harvard Crimson that the university's position was "quite clear: student groups should not discriminate for membership or in the choice of officers… . I have offered to work with [HRCF] to develop constitutional changes which would bring them into compliance."

Soon Illingworth and the HRCF leadership stopped talking to the press. (Illingworth, who has since left ...

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In the Magazine

October 2003

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