Eleven religious groups at Vanderbilt University have submitted applications for official recognition that do not conform to the university’s new nondiscrimination policy – a move that could result in the groups being forced off campus.
The student religious groups have formed an organization called “Vanderbilt Solidarity.” They said they could not in good faith alter their constitutions to comply with the university’s new policy.
Vanderbilt’s new nondiscrimination policy requires all groups, including religious groups, to accept members of different sexual orientations or faiths and allows them to seek leadership roles.
As a result of the change, Vanderbilt reviewed the constitutions of every registered student organization to make sure they were in compliance with the policy after a dispute between the university and a Christian fraternity that expelled a homosexual member.
Student groups now have a choice – they can either revise their membership requirements or they will not be recognized as an official student group. That means the groups will not receive funding and they will not be allowed on campus.
However, the groups represented by Vanderbilt Solidarity have submitted their applications without making any changes to their constitutions – an act of defiance said spokesman Pieter Valk.
“We don’t want to cause trouble,” Valk told Fox News. “We want to make it clear where we are coming from. We want to be back on campus next year but there are certain principles we cannot move from.”
Valk, 21, from Kingsport, TN, accused Vanderbilt of persecuting Christian students.
“I don’t want to say the administration is intentionally persecuting Christians or they have some kind of an agenda to persecute Christians,” he said. “I want to believe that that’s not true. But I know there’s persecution. We’re being told ‘you have a belief but we don’t value it and we are removing you from campus because of that belief.’ And that’s what I call persecution.”
University spokesperson Beth Fortune told Fox News that they are in the process of reviewing all applications and that includes those of the eleven defiant religious organizations.
“We will see that process to its end,” Fortune said, refusing to say what would happen to the groups.
“We’ve been clear,” she said. “We do require registered student organizations to comply with our nondiscrimination policy.”
Father John Sims Baker, the chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic, said the university’s policy has in effect turned Christian students into second class citizens.
“The discriminatory non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University has forced our hand,” Baker said in a statement. “Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly proclaim our Catholic faith. What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt? How can we say it is not important that a Catholic lead a Catholic organization?”
Vanderbilt Catholic announced they would be leaving the campus rather than revise its constitution. The St. Thomas More Society has indicated they will do the same.
Vanderbilt Solidarity includes the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Asian American Christian Fellowship, Cru, Medical Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Graduate Christian Fellowship, Bridges International, Lutheran Student Fellowship, Every Nation Ministries, Beta Upsilon Chi, and Christian Legal Society.
Valk, who is a student leader of Navigators, predicted that Vanderbilt would lose a majority of their Christian organizations if they follow through on the nondiscrimination policy.
“There’s a fear with a lot of us that this is just the beginning at private universities across the nation,” he said. “This is going to begin a wave of silencing Christ’s voice across the nation in private universities.”
“They’ve made it clear in public and private meetings that they value nondiscrimination,” he said. “They value certain core beliefs over my religious convictions, over my ability to associate around ideas of faith and that is very concerning and that hurts me.”
Fortune denied that the university is treating Christians as second-class citizens. She noted that the policy has been imposed on all student groups – not just Christian groups.
“Vanderbilt is a welcoming place of religious groups of all kinds,” she said. “We’ve worked very closely with all groups to answer questions and work through issues that they might have with the nondiscrimination policy.”
But Justin Gunter, the president of Vanderbilt’s Christian Legal Society disagreed and said they designed a policy that limits the rights of a religious group to choose their leaders.
“They honestly believe that a Christian group requiring its leaders to be Christian is malicious discrimination,” Gunter said. “They’ve even compared that to racial segregation. In their minds, this is something evil that needs to be removed from campus.”
Gunter called it insulting.
“It’s extremely insulting to be compared to something as detestable as a segregationist just for upholding your beliefs,” he said.
Fortune said, “Our nondiscrimination policy does not single out religious organizations.”