Thursday, November 15, 2012

Boston Globe Looks At Tufts University Freedom of Religion Issues and Some Disturbing Students Thoughts

The Boston Globe looks at in my view  the very disappointing attack on freedom of religion and association issues at Tufts University. See Group’s faith rule stirs clash at Tufts University Debate centers on freedom, bias .

The article slightly suffers from the fact that perhaps on the advice of counsel the Tuft's Christian Fellowship Leadership is keeping a low profile with the media  perhaps in hope their advocates can still work this out with the administration. So we are mainly left with just as to folks on campus the voices of students that thinking that this is all grand.

 .....On campus, many students agreed with the decision to strip the group of its status. Sophia Laster, who belongs to a campus coalition against religious exclusion, said she believes some members of the Christian group believe homosexuality is morally wrong.

“I think that TCF likes to hide behind the idea of religious freedom and that they are being persecuted, when they are persecuting others,” she said.

Talia Hulkower, a freshman, said she thinks no student group should be allowed to discriminate against its own members.

“I think it’s strange that there would be a group on campus that is discriminatory, because it is the most open campus,” Hulkower said.

Parker Heyl, another student, said the group should be punished if it violated the antidiscrimination policy. Heyl, a Catholic, belongs to Tufts Hillel, the college’s Jewish organization, because he likes its commitment to community service.

“The club didn’t even blink an eye when I said I was Christian,” Heyl said.

From a pure journalistic viewpoint this brings up my one gripe with the article. Even for such a "open" campus as Talia Hulower calls it there must be some folks outside  TCF that thinks this is wrong. At least in my view I hope there is. What are the positions of the other religious groups on campus of various faith traditions. Are they ok with  For such an "open" campus that I suspect has some political activity is everyone on the same page or do they see threats.

Beyond that I think these students statements no doubt send a chill down the spines of many that think these First Amendment issues are important. If this is the attitude of students what happens when they take these views now reinforced by their university's "open" policy into the world after college.

Further even in their statements they seem not to be aware of the issues. That is membership versus leadership requirements.

I think the thoughts of Tufts graduate and Visiting Assistant Professor at Penn State Law School on this situation is work reading in full. See her post Freedom of Association/Discrimination .

Let me put in bold what points of hers I think are of prime importance.

1. Tufts is a private university, and, as such, does not need to respect freedom of association.

2. That said, Tufts really SHOULD respect freedom of association.

3. Freedom of association is especially important for groups that have extreme views, or are marginalized (like certain Christian views on certain college campuses).

4. Even people with hateful and offensive views deserve the right to associate only with each other for the purpose of amplifying their voices.

5. If Tufts gives money to some student groups, it should not discriminate against others on the basis of viewpoint. Should- not must- as Tufts is private, but should respect certain First Amendment freedoms, especially when it says it does.

6. All comers policies, which require every student group to accept all members, are constitutional even at public universities because they do not discriminate against any particular viewpoint, but they severely limit the values underlying freedom of association.

7. Student groups should be permitted to discriminate on the basis of beliefs, as belief-based association is the essence of freedom of association, but not on the basis of status or immutable characteristics. Thus, Christian groups should be able to limit their members to those who believe that homosexuality is a sin. However, Christian groups should not be allowed to exclude people simply for being gay, as sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic that, while often (and reasonably) correlated with belief on whether being gay is biblically prohibited, is not coterminous. This status/belief distinction is key, although line drawing is not always obvious.

8. I find that people often lose their sense of principle when issues they care about are on the table- as if the existence of a right depends on the exercise of that right. In this case, in the clash between liberty and equality, where the government isn't actually doing the speaking or discriminating (student groups involve private speech in a limited public forum), I think liberty should win. However, as Tufts is a private institution, it can place whatever value on freedom of association it wishes, as long as it's up front about it. This is why a university like Liberty, which is straightforward about not respecting certain First Amendment values, gets more leeway in my opinion in restricting freedom of association.

As pointed out in this article there is viewpoint that perhaps this policy is not being carried out in a even handed way. Further taken to it logical conclusion one really wonders if for instance the leadership of the Tufts Democrats became republicans if their views would change. Which leads me to belief there is at the core of this some bothersome viewpoint discrimination going on. Meet your future civic leaders of American.

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