A Commitment to Kindness Does Not Mean Surrendering Your Convictions

The hearing was set for Friday, October 13, 2000, and I was not optimistic. My client was the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), a Christian student group affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a national Christian student ministry. The issue was whether TCF could stay on the Tufts University campus. The previous semester the Tufts student judiciary had expelled it from campus in a late-night “emergency” meeting without providing TCF with notice or an opportunity to be heard. 

What campus crime did TCF commit that required an emergency expulsion? It had applied its statement of faith to exclude a gay student from leadership because she did not agree with the group’s traditional Christian stance on sexual morality. They didn’t exclude her from leadership because she was lesbian—they’d known about her sexual orientation and included her in the group from the first days of her freshman year—but because she did not share’s the group’s theological views about sex. 

To put it plainly, TCF—like any expressive organization—wished to be led by people who shared its values. This is a fundamental, bedrock principle of expressive association. Should campus regulations require an LGBT group to be open to leaders who, for example, oppose gay marriage? That would be absurd.

But if I was defending a bedrock principle of expressive association, why was I pessimistic about the hearing? Tufts is a private university. The First Amendment did not protect TCF. Our task was to persuade a student judiciary that TCF had not violated the university’s rules and to appeal to the university’s commitments to diversity and academic freedom to convince them to keep TCF on campus. 

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