Country music star Larry Gatlin, who lives across the street from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, charges the school has chosen the wrong path in its effort to control the membership and leadership of student organizations.
“People in power over there are really trying to impose their religion, their worldview,” he said in a new documentary about the dispute by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.
University officials have adopted an “all-comers” policy for their campus, meaning student groups are required to allow anyone to participate in any group at any level. So a Republican student can join, even lead, a Democrat student group. A student organization for Jews would be required to allow a Muslim to join and even lead. And Christian student organizations are not allowed to require that a member or even a leader be a Christian.
FIRE, which has battled with Vanderbilt over the issue, created the video to warn that other universities likely will follow the Nashville school’s lead.
“Religious and political groups in the United States have traditionally been free to choose their leaders and members without interference from authorities,” FIRE stated on its website. “That’s no longer true at Vanderbilt University, where the school banned belief-based groups from making belief-based decisions about their members and leaders and drove 13 religious student groups off of campus.”
Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain appears on the video and explains: “Today it may be the Christians. Tomorrow it may the Jews. Two weeks from now it could be the atheists. When you start taking away freedoms, it harms everyone.”
Vanderbilt officials declined to respond to WND’s request for comment.
Pieter Valk, leader of a Christian group, said about a dozen organizations have refused to adjust their beliefs to fit the school’s policy and effectively were thrown off campus. They no longer are allowed to post notices for members on campus, reserve rooms for meetings and other common services other student groups continue to have.
Gatlin told FIRE such discrimination against faith groups affects many people.
“It’s not just Christians. I think the Muslims, the Hindus, whatever, the atheists, have a right to meet over there, anywhere they want to, and keep this Pentecostal Christian out.”
The university bases its policy on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 involving the Christian Legal Society in California that allowed universities to adopt “all-comers” policies.
Swain said she believes Vanderbilt’s policy is the most extreme she’s seen, but she’s concerned “other universities are moving in the same direction.”
Even Democrats and a homosexual are on the video, supporting the Christian student groups’ right to determine their membership and leaders.
The Christian Legal Society commented earlier on the Vanderbilt clash.
“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. 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,” Valk asked, “what’s the point of our group?”
The FIRE video:
An earlier video also was prepared to address the school’s policy. In it, 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. The allegation has caught the attention of the Tennessee Legislature.
The video can be seen below:
The Tennessee Legislature adopted a plan to void the school’s discrimination against Christian student groups, but it was vetoed. However, members of Congress also have expressed concern over the policy.