Nearly two dozen Congressional members sent a letter to the chancellor of Vanderbilt University expressing their concern over a policy that critics believe discriminates against religious student groups.
“We write to express our deep concern about reports that several religious student groups at Vanderbilt University have been placed on provisional status and face possible dissolution unless they allow students who do not share the groups’ core religious beliefs to obtain leadership positions within the organization,” wrote 23 lawmakers in a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos.
“We urge you to ensure that Vanderbilt University’s non-discrimination policy is not being interpreted in a manner that discriminates against religious groups,” read the letter.
Vanderbilt had notified five religious groups that they needed to comply with a policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If the failed to comply, the university warned that the student groups could lose access to funding and campus facilities.
“The leadership went too far,” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) told Fox News & Commentary. “We don’t understand what’s driving them to take what we believe to be an anti-Christian (position).”
A Vanderbilt University spokesperson declined to comment on the congressional letter. Instead, they referred to a statement released last month stating:
“Those student organizations not in compliance with the university’s nondiscrimination policy have been placed on provisional status, meaning they have the same full access to the Vanderbilt campus as they have had in the past while the university continues to listen to and discuss their concerns. We are committed to finding a solution to this issue.”
The university said students who practice their faith are welcome at Vanderbilt; “however, it is incumbent upon them to decide whether they wish to become registered student organizations at the university.”
“There’s no question that there is a singling out of Christian groups and organizations,” he said. “One of the things that should be so egregious to donors and alumni to Vanderbilt is that this is exactly what the First Amendment of the Constitution was designed to protect us against.”
The Tennessean reported that one of the targeted groups is the Christian Legal Society. Their bylaws require officers to “lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.” The requirement means officers are expected to hold certain beliefs that are contrary to Vanderbilt’s policy, the newspaper reported.
“Our group will no longer be able to exist,” law student Justin Gunter told the newspaper.
Vanderbilt’s College Republicans president told the Associated Press that the school is trying to distance itself from its past as a “Southern, white, rich and religious” enclave.
“Vanderbilt has launched an assault on religious groups on campus,” Stephen Siao told the AP.
Forbes said he hopes the university will rethink its policy.
“This is a decision that we really think is a solution in search of a problem,” Forbes said. “We want the administration to sit back and say, ‘every once and a while, shouldn’t we allow just a shred of common sense to filter in?’”
And what happens if they don’t?
“If they don’t, we hope the donors and their alumni will step in and say we can’t allow this to happen in our university,” he said.
With reporting from the Associated Press