Vanderbilt’s ruling that campus Christian groups may not require their leaders to be Christians would seem to violate every canon of reason, let alone the freedom of religion. This happened awhile ago, but I noticed something about the story. Consider this account:
Is Vanderbilt University flirting with the suppression of religion? Yes, according to Carol Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt’s Law School.
Specifically, Swain is referring to four Christian student groups being placed on “provisional status” after a university review found them to be in non-compliance with the school’s nondiscrimination policy.
Vanderbilt says the student organizations cannot require that leaders share the group’s beliefs, goals and values. Carried to its full extent, it means an atheist could lead a Christian group, a man a woman’s group, a Jew a Muslim group or vice versa.
If they remain in non-compliance, the student organizations risk being shut down.
So what’s behind this? Flashback to last fall. An openly gay undergrad at Vanderbilt complained he was kicked out of a Christian fraternity. The university wouldn’t identify the fraternity, but campus newspaper the “Hustler” reported it was Beta Upsilon Chi. As a result, the school took a look at the constitutions of some 300 student groups and found about a dozen, including five religious groups to be in non-compliance with Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy. All were placed on provisional status.
Among the groups threatened with shut down is the Christian Legal Society. It ran afoul with this language from its constitution. “Each officer is expected to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.” CLS President Justin Gunter told me, “We come together to do things that Christians do together. Pray, and have Bible studies.”
To that, Rev. Gretchen Person – interim director of the Office of Religious Life at Vanderbilt – responded “Vanderbilt policies do not allow this expectation/qualification for officers.” Gunter has been negotiating with the university and has taken some language out of the CLS constitution – including the requirement that Student Coordinators “should strive to exemplify Christ-like qualities.” But he says he has to draw the line at the requirement regarding Bible studies, prayer and worship.
He told me, “At the point where they’re saying we can’t have Bible studies and prayer meetings as part of our constitution – if we go beyond that – we’re compromising the very identity of who we are as Christians and the very thing we believe as religious individuals.”
Vanderbilt officials refused to be interviewed, and instead released a statement saying in part “We are committed to making our campus a welcoming environment for all of our students.” In regard to the offending student organizations, officials said they “continue to work with them to achieve compliance.”
So is Vanderbilt opposed to religion? Not really. It’s a Methodist-related school. It has an Office of Religious Life. And the person laying down the hammer on these Christian organizations is the director of that office, a minister, the Rev. Gretchen Person. In other words, this suppression of religion in the name of tolerance is being perpetrated not by atheists but by liberal Protestants!