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InterVarsity Wins Key Nondiscrimination Battle at Tufts
Image: Pete Jelliffe / Flickr
InterVarsity Wins Key Nondiscrimination Battle at Tufts

Tufts University will likely restore official status to Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) after student leaders appealed a decision by the student judiciary to de-recognize the group.

"Tufts' decision demonstrates that universities willing to engage in a conversation will recognize that any religious group must have freedom to choose leaders who affirm those standards," said InterVarsity Christian Fellowship national field director Greg Jao. "It's a very good sign that universities are open to conversation and change in many cases."

In October, the Boston-area research university had barred the group from using Tufts in its name, receiving student activity funds, or reserving campus meeting spaces because TCF required its leaders to adhere to its statement of faith.

According to the The Tufts Daily, the Committee on Student Life yesterday unanimously upheld the October decision by the Tufts Community Union Judiciary.

However, the student life committee created a policy change that will exempt student religious groups (SRG) from the school's nondiscrimination policy when selecting group leaders—as long as they adhere to the policy with respect to group membership.

"It is reasonable to expect that leaders within individual SRGs be exemplars of that particular religion," the ruling stated. "Therefore, an 'all comers' policy for group leadership may not be appropriate for all SRGs. Justified departures from the Tufts nondiscrimination policy in SRG criteria for leadership will no longer present grounds for de-recognition."

Jao says this is "a common-sense approach" because it acknowledges that religious groups are minorities on campus and that those groups are defined by their beliefs.

Yesterday's decision does not immediately restore official recognition to TCF; the group must now reapply under the new rules.

The policy change is the culmination of a long campus-access conflict over the group. In 2000, the Tufts Community Union Judiciary similarly barred TCF from campus after a lesbian student said she had been barred from leadership. After several months, Tufts reinstated TCF.

That 2000 conflict was not the first IVCF chapter conflict with school antidiscrimination policies, but it received significant media attention. And since then, chapters have faced challenges to its on-campus presence at many other universities.

In a highly publicized battle earlier this year, Vanderbilt University de-recognized its InterVarsity chapter over similar nondiscrimination issues. The school ultimately instituted an "all-comers" policy in May, requiring all student groups to allow any student in any leadership position. (All-comers policies were rare two years ago, but they became much more common after the Supreme Court said a University of California law school's policy could trump a Christian Legal Society chapter's desire to limit its leadership positions to Christians.)

Vanderbilt's policy shift prompted 15 Christian student groups to step forward and willingly de-recognize themselves rather than omit faith statements from their governing documents, says Carol Swain, professor of political science and law and adviser for the Christian Legal Society chapter at the Nashville school.

Even without official recognition, Swain says, all of the unregistered Christian groups at Vanderbilt still are meeting—and even reporting growth in membership.

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InterVarsity Wins Key Nondiscrimination Battle at Tufts