Vanderbilt University’s Anti-Discrimination Policy Discriminates Against Christians

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Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

After a Vanderbilt University’s Christian fraternity asked several gay students to leave, the university has decided to enforce a non-discriminatory policy which was on the books but not used. They have defined it broadly and it appears to discriminate against Christians.

They have ordered all organizations on campus to open leadership positions to all students, regardless of whether or not they practice the religion or even know anything about it. That seems an inappropriate response to one organization in that it is directed at all Christian organizations and attempts to determine their leadership.

NPR: …Members of Christian student groups say Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy has them feeling more like victims of discrimination. They include the school’s star quarterback, junior Jordan Rogers.

The little brother of NFL superstar Aaron Rogers is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It’s one of more than 400 student groups at Vanderbilt being required to comply with an “all comers” rule. College Democrats have to accept Republicans and vice versa, and religious groups must welcome atheists. They say they’re fine with that.

But under the policy, all group members must also be eligible for leadership positions, which is where many draw the line. Rogers joined the chorus of opposition at a recent town hall meeting on campus.

“If someone that doesn’t share the faith is teaching,” Rogers asked, “then what’s the point of even having these organizations?”…

A 2010 Supreme Court decision allows an institution to recognize a religious organization unless it refuses to allow all students to join.

Under Vanderbilt’s leadership rule, however, a Christian organization could have an Atheist leading their group.

Vanderbilt Catholic, the largest organization on campus will not comply, must leave the campus, and change its name. It is the largest organization on campus, offering Masses and many services to its students.

The following is the response from Vanderbilt Catholic –

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 26, 2012
CONTACT: Kathleen Cordell, 429-4970

Vanderbilt Catholic Will Not Comply with Vanderbilt University’s Mandate

Vanderbilt Catholic announced to its members on Sunday that they will not re-register as a student organization at Vanderbilt University for the Fall Semester 2012.

According to Fr. John Sims Baker, Chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic, “The discriminatory non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University has forced our hand.”

Student organizations must re-register in April and affirm that they will abide by the controversial non-discrimination policy, explained Fr. Baker. “The Administration is forcing religious groups to open leadership positions to all students, regardless of whether or not they practice the religion or even know anything about it,” he said.

“How could we sign such an agreement?” Fr. Baker asks. “Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly to 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?”

Student members of Vanderbilt Catholic received a letter on Saturday, signed by five leaders of the Vanderbilt Catholic Student Board, stating

After much reflection, discussion, and prayer, we have decided that Vanderbilt+Catholic cannot in good conscience affirm that we comply with this policy. While organizational skills and leadership abilities are important qualifications for leaders of Vanderbilt+Catholic, the primary qualification for leadership is Catholic faith and practice. We are a faith-based organization. A Catholic student organization led by someone who neither professes the Catholic faith nor strives to live it out would not be able to serve its members as an authentically Catholic organization. We cannot sign the affirmation form because to do so would be to lie to the university and to ourselves about who we are as an organization.

While this policy may change our status as a registered student organization, it will not change our mission. We will continue to serve the Vanderbilt community as a welcoming and faithful Catholic campus ministry, proposing Jesus Christ in all that we do.

Fr. Baker says that Vanderbilt Catholic will re-organize. “With Bishop Choby’s complete support, we will continue to serve the students of Vanderbilt as an independent ministry. We are going to open our doors wider in order to make a greater effort to reach out to all Vanderbilt students and all college students in Nashville.

In a recent email to Fr. Baker, Belmont’s Vice President of Spiritual Development, Dr. Todd Lake, said: “Know that you always have a home here,”

“It has become quite clear to the Vanderbilt Catholic students that we either stand for something or fall for anything,” said Fr. Baker. “We choose to stand for Jesus Christ, and we expect that our leadership do the same.”

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