Salem Kills Contract with Gordon College Over School’s Stance Against Antigay Regulations

Salem’s Old Town Hall.
Salem’s Old Town Hall.
City of Salem

Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll terminated Gordon College’s contract to operate the city’s Old Town Hall on Wednesday. Driscoll said she pulled the contract due to Gordon College’s stance demanding an exemption from federal antigay discrimination regulations.

In a statement posted on the city’s website, Driscoll said the city cannot legally work with “entities that maintain discriminatory practices.”

From the city of Salem’s statement:

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“I am truly disappointed in the stance you have taken, which plainly discriminates against the rights of LGBT individuals, both on and off campus,” said Mayor Driscoll in the letter to President Lindsay. “These actions fly in the face of the City of Salem’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which prohibits our municipality from contracting with entities that maintain discriminatory practices. While I respect your rights to embed religious values on a private college campus, religious freedom does not afford you the right to impose those beliefs upon others and cannot be extended into a publicly owned facility or any management contract for a publicly owned facility, like Old Town Hall. Moreover, I hope you realize how hurtful and offensive these “behavioral standards” are to members of the greater Salem LGBT community, some of whom are Gordon alumni, staff and/or students.”

Gordon President Michael Lindsay had signed a July 1 letter sent to President Barack Obama by several religious colleges, demanding an exemption from federal regulations that outlaw antigay discrimination. The legislation would bar federal contracts to groups with hiring practices that discriminate based on sexual orientation. According to The Boston Globe, the school’s student handbook forbids “homosexual practice” and requires abstinence for unmarried students.

In a “personal message” posted on the Gordon College website, Lindsey said signing the letter was an expression of religious freedom.

From Lindsey’s letter:

Signing the letter 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. The letter asks the president for the same religious exemption that was passed by a U.S. Senate bill (S.815) in 2013 with bipartisan support. Some have misunderstood this message as requesting something new or different. That’s not the case. President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 that offered the same sort of religious exemption that we are requesting of President Obama.

Gordon College, located in Wenham, was contracted by Salem to operate the Old Town Hall, which was used for private events and housed the school’s theater production of “Cry Innocent” an interactive play about religious persecution during the Salem Witch Trials.