Vanderbilt University has informed a small Christian student organization that it will no longer be recognized as a student group because it requires its members to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, according to email correspondence provided to Fox News.
“It just shows how radical the Vanderbilt administration has become in enforcing a policy that is nonsense,” said Kim Colby, senior counsel for the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom. “A lot of jaws dropped when we saw how far the Vanderbilt administration was taking this.”
Colby told Fox News the Christian group did not want to be identified because “they just don’t want to be caught in the crossfire of the culture wars.”
The group reached out to the Vandy chapter of the Christian Legal Society so others would know what had happened, Colby said.
“They are a small group of students who want to gather together and worship God,” she said. “That’s basically all they want to do.”
According to email correspondence from the university, the group’s constitution was not approved because the university took issue with a requirement that leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”
“Please change the following statement in your constitution,” a university official wrote to the group.
The original statement read: “Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, personal commitment to Jesus Christ, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability.”
The university directed the group to change the statement to read: “Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability.”
Ironically, Vanderbilt University was founded as a Methodist institution established for the purpose of practicing – among other things – theology.
University Provost Richard McCarty told The Tennessean that their policy “is about rejecting discrimination and not about restricting religious freedom.”
But isn’t that exactly what they’ve done to the small Christian group by telling them they can’t have leaders who have a commitment to Jesus Christ? Or for that matter, how is the university’s email not an intrusion into the freedom to practice religion?
The university released the following statement to Fox News in connection with the unnamed Christian club:
“We respect our students’ rights to hold and practice their religious beliefs. Our nondiscrimination policy does nothing to restrict those rights, nor does it limit these religious organizations’ ability to choose their own leaders. We require only that the groups be open to all Vanderbilt students and all members in good standing must be allowed to offer themselves for leadership. The groups themselves select their leaders. The policy allows leadership requirements such as length of membership, attendance, level of active participation and certain performance-based criteria, such as GPA for honor societies. Any groups whose leadership requirements don’t comply with our nondiscrimination policy are given the opportunity to revise and resubmit their application.”
Colby said the student group has decided not to comply with the university’s demands.
“They’re going to leave campus rather than take those five words out of their constitution,” Colby told Fox News.
Colby said it’s becoming clear that Vanderbilt University is specifically targeting Christian organizations.
“Any students have to be concerned about what an administration that’s being as radical as the Vanderbilt administration has been might do,” she said. “There’s a lot at stake for students when they stand up against their administration.”
This is just the latest in a string of controversies over Vanderbilt’s newly revised non-discrimination policy. At least 13 Christian groups have decided to defy the ban. Two groups, including Vanderbilt Catholic, have already announced plans to leave campus rather than conform to the university’s new policies.
The Tennessee Legislature is also jumping into the controversy. State Rep. Bill Dunn told Fox News it’s clear that Vanderbilt “has a policy that attacks religious organizations on campus.”
He drafted legislation threatening to block the policy because even though Vanderbilt is a private institution, it receives some public money.
“Some people have book sense and other people have common sense,” he said. “I think Vandy has gone with what the liberal elite would like to see and they aren’t using the common sense God has given them.”
Dunn’s drafted amendment would allow Vanderbilt to have an ‘all-comers’ policy, but it would have to be applied evenly to every student group – including fraternities and sororities.
The Tennessean reported that fraternities and sororities are exempted because of federal Title IX regulations that apply to gender issues.
“It shows the hypocrisy of Vanderbilt University,” Dunn said. “They know they can pick on Christian groups and it won’t affect their donors. But if they go after fraternities and sororities they realize it might hit them in the pocket book.”
Colby said it’s a very difficult time for Christians on campus.
“It makes me very sad,” she said. “We used to have religious liberty — where people understand that religious groups having their leaders agree with their faith was not only permissible and protected, it was common sense. And we’ve lost a lot of common sense in this country.”