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Vanderbilt tells Catholic Students To Change Name

By Todd Starnes

The chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic, one of the largest student religious groups at Vanderbilt University, said their organization has been ordered by university officials to change their name. The order came after the Catholic group announced it was leaving campus rather than comply with the university’s new nondiscrimination policy.

A spokesperson for Vanderbilt University confirmed that the Catholic group was told they could no longer use the Vanderbilt name.


“Those student groups who choose not to comply with the university’s nondiscrimination policy do forfeit the privileges associated with registered student organization status and that includes the use of the Vanderbilt name,” spokesperson Beth Fortune told Fox News.

The university has an “all comers” policy. That means all groups – including religious groups – must be open to all students and that every student should be allowed to run for office.

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.

That campus-wide review included Vanderbilt Catholic — with about 500 members, it’s one of the largest of the university’s 400 registered student groups — whose membership is open to all students, but requires that its leadership be Catholic. The group refused to change its policy and instead decided to leave campus.

As a result, Vanderbilt Catholic will have to find a new name said Father John Sims Baker, the group’s chaplain.

“We’ll have to change our name,” Baker told Fox News. “That’s one thing the university has made clear.”

Baker hedged when asked if Vanderbilt’s edict on the name change was mean-spirited.

“I guess they own their name,” he said. “I’m not too upset about it – but whatever.”

Fortune said the policy is fair and was made clear to the student organizations.

“Registered student organizations that don’t comply with our nondiscrimination policy will forfeit certain privileges and that includes the use of the Vanderbilt name, university funding and other privileges associated with registered student organization status.”

Fortune said any group that fails to adhere to the policy will also have to change their name. Justin Gunter, the president of Vanderbilt’s Christian Legal Society, said it’s sad.

“Vanderbilt is intentionally trying to disassociate itself from religious groups,” he told Fox News. “In keeping goal it’s a necessary step for Vanderbilt to take.”

Gunter is a spokesman for a group of 11 Christian organizations that have submitted applications for official status without making changes to their faith requirements – an act of defiance to the university.

“If our applications are rejected, we will not be able to claim we are the Vanderbilt chapter of the Christian Legal Society,” he said.

Father Baker called the university’s policy a “kick in the gut” and agreed that Vanderbilt considers Christians as 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?”

 Nevertheless, the chaplain said they will have to rethink the way they minister to students. Several hundred attend Mass and many others are involved in a variety of religious activities.

As for the name change – Baker said they are floating some ideas but nothing has been decided.

“We’re still going to be reaching out to students on campus,” he said. “We have to get about our work and maybe work harder at it.”