Christian students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., are fighting an administration policy that dictates “all comers” be eligible for leadership in student organizations, even if they don’t share the groups’ faith.
In fact, under the policy put into effect earlier this year, campus groups’ leadership requirements can no longer “discriminate” on race, faith, gender or sexual orientation, leading many to question whether men could be elected to lead sororities or Muslims to lead Bible studies.
The Christian Legal Society, or CLS, explains an administration email earlier this week denied an already existing group’s application to keep its recognition because its constitution lists as one of its criteria for officer selection a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Now 11 religious organizations – including groups like Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity – must decide whether they should continue under the new policy, become “unofficial” organizations or leave campus altogether. Two Catholic organizations have already packed their bags and left.
“By mandating the elimination of a Christian group’s standard of ‘personal commitment to Jesus Christ,’ Vanderbilt requires students to abandon their religious integrity and undermines their religious freedoms,” a CLS statement asserts. “Leadership is crucial to the direction of any organization. Eliminating the requirement of a commitment to Jesus Christ in leaders takes away the group’s ability to effectively fulfill its purpose and continue its ministry. By forcing religious groups to choose between remaining on campus and upholding their religious convictions, the university inhibits the development of a community based on freedom and inclusivity.”
“If we can’t ask our leaders to be religious,” asked Vanderbilt junior Pieter Valk, “what’s the point of our group?”
Students, faculty and even alumni, however, began a new campaign this earlier this week to fight back.
Students created a video in MP4 format to make their case and distributed it preloaded on 4,000 electronic MP4 players given away for free. The $8 players come in school colors black and gold, The Tennessean reports, and were purchased by an alumnus who wishes to remain anonymous.
“I feel that religious organizations have the right to be biased,” Anna McNair, a sophomore who accepted one of the free MP4 players, told The Tennessean. “It wouldn’t be right for a Muslim person to be leading a Christian organization. The leaders need to share the beliefs of the body to foster unity.”
On the video itself, law student Palmer Williams explains, “They preach that they are tolerant and that this policy is to end discrimination, when in fact this policy is directly discriminating on my right to be a religious person.”
Students also claim that the policy isn’t being enforced against fraternities and sororities (which would naturally have an interest in “discriminating” on the basis of sex), but only against Christians, an allegation that has caught the attention of the Tennessee Legislature.
The video itself can be seen below:
Meanwhile, CLS reports, the students also delivered the message-carrying MP4 players to the members of Vanderbilt’s Board of Trustees, who meet today in an opportunity to rethink the policy.
And according to a report in the Nashville City Pages, 23 Republicans in the Tennessee House have addressed a letter to the board of trust, also urging reconsideration.
“We acknowledge that private institutions such as Vanderbilt University have the freedom to establish its associations and maintain the integrity of its institutional mission,” Dunn wrote to the board. “But the state has a right not to subsidize any part of the operations of those organizations, like Vanderbilt University, that engage in unequal treatment of individuals and organizations, the effect of which is religious discrimination.”
The City Pages also reports Dunn is currently supporting House Bill 3576, which will prevent public universities from adopting a similar “all-comers” policy.