Dis­crim­i­na­tion charge turns on gay ad­vo­cates

Col­lege may have 1st Amend­ment case

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

No col­lege has taken more flak af­ter run­ning afoul of the gay rights move­ment than Gor­don Col­lege, but it turns out the small Chris­tian in­sti­tu­tion in Wen­ham, Mas­sachusetts, also has some sup­port­ers.

One of them is Lori D’Amico, a par­ent in Lynn, Mas­sachusetts, who sub­mit­ted pe­ti­tion signatures last week to re­quire the city’s school dis­trict to hold an­other hear­ing on its vote to bar Gor­don un­der­grad­u­ates from serv­ing as stu­dent teach­ers in the Lynn sys­tem.

An­other is Peter Kir­sanow, a mem­ber of the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights, who fired off a let­ter to the Lynn mayor last month warn­ing her that the school com­mit­tee had vi­o­lated the First Amend­ment by dis­crim­i­nat­ing against Gor­don Col­lege stu­dents based on their reli­gion.

The up­roar was spurred by Gor­don Pres­i­dent D. Michael Lind­say’s join­ing July let­ter from re­li­gious lead­ers to Pres­i­dent Obama, ask­ing him to carve out a gen­eral re­li­gious ex­emp­tion from an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning fed­eral con­trac­tors from dis­crim­i­nat­ing based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity.

Crit­ics have blasted the re­quest as proof that Gor­don con­dones dis­crim­i­na­tion, but Mr. Kir­sanow dis­agreed.

“As noted above, no one has claimed that a Gor­don Col­lege stu­dent teacher has dis­crim­i­nated against a Lynn public school stu­dent on the ba­sis of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, or even made a com­ment about sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion,” he said in his let­ter.

“The Com­mit­tee is dis­crim­i­nat­ing against th­ese col­lege stu­dents purely on the ba­sis of their as­so­ci­a­tion with Gor­don Col­lege and their im­puted re­li­gious be­liefs,” he said. “This the Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids.”

In other words, Gor­don Col­lege may well have a legal case against some of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that have ban­ished the col­lege since Mr. Lind­say’s July 1 let­ter went public.

But that’s not a course of ac­tion Gor­don plans to pur­sue, said Gor­don spokesman Rick Sweeney.

“We’re very grate­ful for the sup­port, and I thought the point he [Kir­sanow] made in terms of the rights of stu­dents in this sit­u­a­tion was very help­ful to point out,” Mr. Sweeney said. “At the end of the day, we’re still hope­ful that the city will con­sider where there could be a mid­dle ground to al­low us to work with them again.”

Gor­don has taken the high road de­spite an on­slaught to its rep­u­ta­tion of near­bib­li­cal pro­por­tions. Although Mr. Lind­say said he had signed the White House let­ter — along with 14 other re­li­gious lead­ers — as an in­di­vid­ual and not on be­half of the school, Gor­don has borne the brunt of the back­lash.

A week af­ter the let­ter was sent, Salem Mayor Kim­ber­ley Driscoll ended the city’s con­tract with Gor­don to man­age the Old Town Hall, cit­ing Mr. Lind­say’s “hurt­ful and of­fen­sive” stance. Shortly there­after, the Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum cut off its re­la­tion­ship with the school’s mu­seum stud­ies pro­gram.

In Au­gust the New Eng­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Schools and Col­leges an­nounced that Gor­don would have a year to prove that its “poli­cies and pro­ce­dures are nondis­crim­i­na­tory” based on its long-stand­ing Life and Con­duct Pol­icy against “ho­mo­sex­ual prac­tice.” The col­lege calls on all stu­dents to avoid sex out­side mar­riage, with a bi­b­li­cal def­i­ni­tion of mar­riage as a male-fe­male union.

At Em­manuel Col­lege, a Catholic school in Bos­ton, ath­letic direc­tor Pam Roecker said that Em­manuel would no longer com­pete against Gor­don sports teams af­ter the 2014-15 aca­demic year, ac­cord­ing to the stu­dent news­pa­per The Hub.

“The foun­da­tion of ev­ery­thing [in Em­manuel ath­let­ics] is based on fair and eq­ui­table treat­ment,” said Ms. Roecker in a state­ment.

On Aug. 28, the Lynn School Com­mit­tee ter­mi­nated its stu­dent-teach­ing pro­gram with Gor­don on a 4-3 vote, based on Mr. Lind­say’s let­ter, which com­mit­tee mem­ber Charles Gallo said came as proof of an “in­tent to dis­crim­i­nate.”

“We sev­ered all ties be­tween Gor­don Col­lege and the Lynn Public Schools on the ba­sis of an ex­press in­tent to dis­crim­i­nate against the LGBT com­mu­nity in its hir­ing prac­tices, but not on the ba­sis of its re­li­gious be­lief or be­hav­ioral code of con­duct,” said Mr. Gallo, who au­thored the mo­tion.

“They can be­lieve what­ever they want. They can have what­ever re­li­gious be­liefs they want, but when they cross the line and get into in­tent to dis­crim­i­nate, that’s when it be­comes a prob­lem,” he said.

For 11 years, Gor­don Col­lege had been send­ing stu­dent teach­ers to the Lynn schools, an ur­ban dis­trict with a larger num­ber of low-in­come stu­dents. Mr. Gallo called the pro­gram “in­signif­i­cant,” but Ms. D’Amico, whose son at­tends the high school, said the loss of the stu­dent teach­ers has hurt stu­dents.

“I think our stu­dents — es­pe­cially Lynn Public Schools, we’re a large ur­ban dis­trict, we have a high poverty level, we have over 15,000 stu­dents, and 85 or 90 per­cent are low-in­come — we need all the help that we can get,” said Ms. D’Amico. “My friend had a Gor­don stu­dent teacher come in for an en­tire se­mes­ter for his classes, and she was won­der­ful.”

Her pe­ti­tion re­quires the com­mit­tee to hold an­other hear­ing within three months of cer­ti­fy­ing the pe­ti­tion. So far the school is still await­ing word from the city clerk that the signatures have been cer­ti­fied, said Lynn schools spokesman Tom Iar­robino.

Mr. Gallo said the school dis­trict had ac­tu­ally been do­ing Gor­don a fa­vor by help­ing its stu­dent teach­ers ful­fill their com­mu­nity ser­vice re­quire­ments, adding, “It’s not like the Gor­don stu­dents were com­ing in and do­ing this out of to­tal al­tru­ism.”

“Their vol­un­teer in­volve­ment was very limited. You have to draw the line some­where,” Mr. Gallo said. “If the Ku Klux Klan, for ex­am­ple, made the best school lunch in the world, we’re not go­ing to hire them to make the school lunch in the Lynn Public Schools.”

Mr. Sweeney had no com­ment in re­sponse be­yond, “If Mr. Gallo is equat­ing a Chris­tian col­lege with a hate or­ga­ni­za­tion, I will let his state­ment stand on its own.”

Af­ter the vote, Gor­don was forced to cancel 10 stu­dent teach­ing place­ments sched­uled for the fall as well as free read­ing tu­tor­ing of­fered af­ter school. The school had also planned an Oc­to­ber event called “Places You’ll Go,” which was slated to bring 600 Lynn stu­dents to the col­lege cam­pus for a day, Mr. Sweeney said.

Mr. Gallo isn’t run­ning for re­elec­tion in Novem­ber, which means the board’s po­si­tion could change. But he also said that he would be will­ing to re­con­sider al­low­ing Gor­don stu­dents back into the schools if Mr. Lind­say were to re­sign.

“I don’t have an MO against Gor­don, but I think that they need to change their tune on this is­sue, and, to be very blunt about it, I think the board ought to think about re­plac­ing Mr. Lind­say, with all due re­spect,” Mr. Gallo said. “And by tak­ing those steps, even if I was still on the com­mit­tee, I think we should con­sider part­ner­ing again.”

Mr. Sweeney in­sisted that “Pres­i­dent Lind­say is not the is­sue,” and that the let­ter “was not, as Gallo has claimed in the past, a ‘re­quest to dis­crim­i­nate.’”

“The Lynn School Com­mit­tee is pun­ish­ing Gor­don stu­dents, and, by ex­ten­sion, their own stu­dents be­cause of their af­fil­i­a­tion with a set of re­li­gious be­liefs, and not for any way they have ever treated any­one in Lynn,” Mr. Sweeney said.

What may be get­ting over­looked in the de­bate is that Gor­don has never been a hot­bed of right-wing ac­tivism. If any­thing, the non­de­nom­i­na­tional col­lege leans left within the con­text of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­ity. In ad­di­tion, the school has in the past hired any num­ber of gay em­ploy­ees and ac­cepted gay stu­dents with­out in­ci­dent, Mr. Sweeney said.

Gor­don has moved to de­fend it­self in the public re­la­tions realm by re­tain­ing O’Neill & As­so­ciates, a Bos­ton firm headed by Thomas P. O’Neill III, son of the long­time Demo­cratic House speaker from Mas­sachusetts.

So far Gor­don’s ad­mis­sions have not suf­fered, with the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions re­ceived a lit­tle higher than last year, Mr. Sweeney said. The school has about 1,800 un­der­grad­u­ates and about 300 grad­u­ate stu­dents.

“We’re hop­ing folks will re­mem­ber the type of in­sti­tu­tion we are and re­spect the re­li­gious be­liefs that are part of that, none of which have ever been im­posed on any­one out­side of Gor­don Col­lege,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Again, that’s kind of the irony here. We’ve al­ways been a place that’s been very wel­com­ing. We’re will­ing to en­gage with any­one.”

“The Com­mit­tee is dis­crim­i­nat­ing against th­ese col­lege stu­dents purely on the ba­sis of their as­so­ci­a­tion with Gor­don Col­lege and their im­puted re­li­gious be­liefs. This the Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids.”

— Peter Kir­sanow, a mem­ber of the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights


Gor­don Col­lege is among the many con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions strug­gling to find their place in a land­scape rapidly chang­ing in fa­vor of gay rights.

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