This Small-Town Mayor's Response to Local Bigotry Deserves a Standing Ovation


This is certainly an interesting spin on putting your money where your mouth is.

Earlier this summer, Kim Driscoll, the first female mayor of Salem, Mass., pulled funding from Gordon College, a small, Christian liberal arts school located outside Boston. The school had cosponsored a letter to President Obama asking for a religious exemption to his executive order to end employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. (This letter, crafted by a couple dozen religious leaders around the country, was prompted in large part by the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision.)

In her letter to school president Michael Lindsay, Driscoll wrote that the decision to withdraw funding had been made because "not doing so would be a violation of [the city's] Non-Discrimination Ordinance":

Image Credit: City of Salem

Lindsay penned an open letter of his own, claiming that he had in fact signed the original letter to protect the college's "religious liberty." 

"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," Lindsay wrote. "Nothing has changed in our position."

This open letter, like the original letter, is problematic for a number of reasons, the first being the completely insidious way it attempts to mask the harm in the school's request by couching it as protecting "religious liberty." 

On Wednesday, egged on by conservative provocateur Glenn Beck, conservative "concerned citizens" from as far away as Texas and Georgia started calling the mayor's office.

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Rather than backtrack, Driscoll made the inspired decision to use this outpouring of fervor to raise more awareness and resources for the LGBT community. For every phone call, Driscoll has pledged to donate $5 to the North Shore Alliance of LGBT Youth. (It remains unclear where that money is coming from, but wouldn't it be poetic if it came from the money formerly allocated to Gordon College?)

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Over at Slate, columnist Mark Joseph Stern notes that the whole things seems to be an exercise in the type of pluralist societal model supported by the Hobby Lobby decision in the first place. 

"Gordon College doesn't like gay people; Salem does," Stern writes. "Gordon demands the right to discriminate against gays; Salem, in response, tells Gordon: Do what you want on your own campus, but don't inflict your prejudices on our public spaces. Gordon continues to discriminate on its own property; Salem continues to mandate equality. If that isn't 'allowing different understandings of social justice to be pursued simultaneously,' then I don't know what is."