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Christian college under pressure after seeking exemption from gay special protections

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Gordon College in Massachusetts has lost a municipal contract and faces a possible threat to its accreditation after its president signed a letter to President Obama requesting a religious exemption from an expected Executive Order adding homosexuality and transgender status as protected class for the employees of organizations holding federal contracts.

On July 1, Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay cosigned a letter with more than a dozen other faith leaders -- some of them public Obama supporters -- asking President Obama to provide a religious exemption in his upcoming Executive Order.

In response to the letter, the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts, Kim Driscoll, terminated the city's contract with Gordon. Driscoll wrote in a letter that Lindsay's signature brought to light "current policies at Gordon that require strict adherence to behavioral standards ... that are discriminatory towards LGBT individuals."

Driscoll noted that Salem has a non-discrimination ordinance, and that Gordon's "standards" would violate that ordinance. The press release about the letter notes that Salem was "awarded...a perfect score on" the Human Rights Campaign's "Municipal Equality Index for the City’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance and the overall LGBT-inclusivity of the City’s laws, policies and services."

LifeSiteNews asked Driscoll's office to clarify why Gordon's policies were not problematic prior to Lindsay’s letter, but several requests for comment on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday went unanswered.

Gordon was founded in 1889 by a clergyman as a religious-oriented institution of higher education. Its statement of faith includes belief that "the 66 canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error. They constitute the only infallible guide in faith and practice." Likewise, the student handbook says that some "acts ... are expressly forbidden in Scripture," including "dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice."

Lindsay’s co-signatories on the religious exemption letter included multiple supporters of same-sex "marriage," including two members of Catholics for Obama. Organized by a former White House employee under Obama, the letter asked "that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need."

The letter also cited a statement made by Obama in his first campaign for president. At that time, the letter notes, Obama said that “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix. … I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage.”

"You justified withholding your support for same-sex marriage, at least in part, by appealing to your Christian faith. Yet you still believed you could serve your country, all Americans, as President. Similarly, some faith-based organizations’ religious identity requires that their employees share that identity. We still believe those organizations can serve their country, all Americans, in partnership with their government and as welcome members of the American family," says the letter.

It's not just Salem that is reacting to Lindsay's signature. The New England Association of School and College’s (NEASC) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education has put Gordon on its September agenda, leading to concerns that its accreditation could be at risk.

Barbara Billingham, the commission’s president, said, "What is mainly getting the attention is the decision of the President of Gordon College to sign the letter to President Obama asking for a religious exemption."

"Because it appears that this may mean that Gordon College would treat gay, lesbian and transgender persons differently when it comes to employment, there may be an issue with whether the policies and practices of Gordon College are consistent with the Commission's Standards and policies,” she told LifeSiteNews.

However, she noted that "it is not uncommon for the Commission to place an issue that appears to be related to its Standards and policies on its agenda to decide what, if anything, the Commission wants to do. That means that the Commission may take no action, or it may ask for additional information. I make no prediction on what the Commission will do."

When asked about the longevity of Gordon College's allegedly discriminatory policies, Billingham said, "I believe that Gordon College has been consistent in its policies for several years, and the most recent comprehensive evaluation was in 2012. The Commission does give wide latitude to colleges and universities to establish their own policies as long as these policies are generally available to students and prospective students, and employees and prospective employees."

"To the best of my recollection, while Gordon's policies were generally known, no particular issue was identified in prior evaluation reports,” she added.

"Issues relating to employment and students for gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals have changed -- and are changing -- at an unusually rapid pace in our society," she said.

Gordon College spokesperson Rick Sweeney told LifeSiteNews they are confident that the college would remain accredited. "President Lindsay has been in personal contact with NEASC and was advised they would put Gordon College on their regular meeting agenda for September, as they do when any NEASC-accredited institution receives significant media attention,” he explained.

"Gordon recently worked with NEASC for our 10-year reaccreditation review in 2012, which included a comprehensive review of Gordon’s standards and practices. The process was very thorough and very positive. We look to forward to the meeting in September and continuing our long-standing relationship with NEASC," said Sweeney.

Billingham said that she has "every confidence that the discussion will be thoughtful and that the Commission will fully consider the information submitted by the College." She also thanked Lindsay for the information he "offered to provide for the Commission."

In a letter dated July 8 and addressed to the "Gordon Community," Lindsay said his signature was "in keeping with our decades-old conviction that, as an explicitly Christian institution, Gordon should set the conduct expectations for members of our community. Nothing has changed in our position." He said that the exemption was the same one given by President George Bush in 2002 regarding a similar law, and the one included in the Senate-passed Employee Non-Discrimination Act last year.

"Nothing has changed in our position regarding admission or employment,” he wrote. “We have never barred categories of individuals from our campus and have no intention to do so now. We have always sought to be a place of grace and truth, and that remains the case. As a Christian college, we are all followers of Christ. As long as a student, a faculty member, or a staff member supports and lives by our community covenant documents, they are welcome to study or work at Gordon."

Gordon has also faced pressure from the area's largest newspaper, the Boston Globe. An editorial accused the college of believing that "institutions should be able to pick and choose which laws they follow," and an op-ed said Gordon's request was "bigotry dressed up as virtue."

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