Our Laws are Colliding

This is a serious issue, but it is also an example of how our laws — freedom, non-discrimination, non-establishment of religion, etc – collide with one another and create what appears to many of us to be intolerable conditions.

Jason Hoyt:

Once upon a time, American universities encouraged students to create community around common interests and protected the right of student organizations to operate in a manner consistent with their beliefs.

But a rising tide of resistance to religious organizations on college campuses, allegedly aimed at reducing intolerance, ironically advances it, fostering an unwelcoming and hostile learning environment for many students and threatening the very existence of religious student organizations.

In the fall of 2010, Vanderbilt University began investigating the constitutions of every religious organization on its Nashville, Tenn., campus after a discrimination complaint was filed against a Christian fraternity. During the investigation, the university changed the student organization handbook to remove a section protecting religious association. The university eliminated a clause that read, “In affirming its commitment to this principle [of non-discrimination], the University does not limit freedom of religious association and does not require adherence to this principle by government agencies or external organizations that associate with but are not controlled by the University.”

Leading Jason Hoyt to these probing points and questions:

Contrary to the university’s stated goal of inclusion and tolerance, the change in policy jeopardizes the operational freedom of all religious organizations on campus. Patricia Helland, an associate dean who oversees religious life at Vanderbilt, defended the change in an interview saying “organizations can have core beliefs, but that organizations can’t require their members or leaders to abide by or adhere to those core beliefs.”

It begs the question: How can an organization maintain its identity without the ability to choose its members and leaders based on those beliefs? The answer is: It can’t.

Vanderbilt’s new nondiscrimination policy enables a Jewish student to become president of the Muslim student organization, or a Christian student to become the president of the campus Hindu organization.

Vanderbilt’s new nondiscrimination policy undermines the very purpose of encouraging students to organize around a common interest, threatening students’ ability to create community and develop vibrant supporting and learning environments for themselves. Has it really come to a point where students who meet for a common interest can be accused of discrimination for excluding someone who doesn’t share the defining interests of their organization?

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/01/31/why-is-vanderbilt-turning-hostile-to-religion-on-its-campus/#ixzz1l8b1wn5A

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/01/31/why-is-vanderbilt-turning-hostile-to-religion-on-its-campus/#ixzz1l8awTQWE


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  • Amos Paul

    On a side note, I’m always a bit leery about these sorts of issues when discussed primarily on Fox News. They do so seem to love a controversy.

    That being said, I’ve read CT’s far more level-headed coverage of the issue. So that’s all well and good.

  • Orwell steps through the looking glass…

  • The *worst case* hypothetical scenarios bother me. A Jew leading a Muslim group! An Atheist leading a Christian group! Oh my! Just sensational.

    IMO, this is an institution trying to legislate mercy and grace toward outsiders from its groups. Something, by the very nature of mercy and grace, you cannot do.

  • John W Frye

    I always think it’s funny that here at Jesus Creed Fox News is always blasted for bias as if CNN or MSNBC etc. are not. What a crock!

  • Amos Paul


    When did I praise CNN/MSNBC over Fox? I cited CT.

  • Cam R

    Up here in Canada, we have similar issues regarding restriction of freedom at Universities. The University of Calgary has been in our news over the past years for restricting freedom of speech for students who protest abortion. They even went so far as to charge their own students with trespassing.

    It is funny that our institutions that should be place of freedom of speech and ideas are turning out to be more closed minded then the general public who funds there coffers.

  • Here is a link to a well-done edit of clips from the 3-hour town hall meeting, where the University tries to explain its logic. My favorite part is where the Provost asks (he thinks rhetorically), “What if my (Catholic) faith beliefs guided all the decisions I made in a given day?” When a student says, “Well, they should.” He says, over and over again, “No, they shouldn’t. No they should not.”


  • Scott Foster

    This my first time to post on a blog … ever, but as much as I enjoy reading both the posts and comments here I thought that I would give it a try.

    I do not speak for the author’s organization, but I am an alumnus of it so I can understand the frustration of Mr. Hoyt. And while it seems silly to think that, as in his hypotheticals, an atheist might actually lead a Christian group etc. it does highlight the absurdity of saying that a group must put on paper in order to have campus access (not even funding) that which it will not do in practice, elect/choose a non-Christian to lead.

    Legally, however, the tension presented by this example, between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise clause, seems to be in Vanderbilt’s favor. A couple of years ago the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a similar policy by a public law school against the Christian Legal Society. That Vanderbilt is a private institution makes it even more likely to prevail on the legal merits.

    Rather than worry too much over whether or not government or private institutions will continue to support or allow religious organizations freedom of belief on campus, this case should be presented as a challenge to the Church, not to donate money to pay legal fees, but to provide support for organizations like Mr. Hoyt’s. These types of organizations allow college age Christians to fellowship together from many different traditions and denominations, Protestant Catholic and Orthodox . I personally think it would be a great loss to the Body if we cannot find ways to facilitate these type of interactions without state or secular institutional support. Perhaps it would be a good lesson in relying less on the justice of man and instead placing our hope in the King of all kings.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    This is a fascinating case where, I believe, Christians have the opportunity to make a decision whether they wish to solidly maintain their exclusive positions and forgo the benefits of RSO recognition, which they have been able to assume for the history of America. I have to ask whether these Christian students and organizations have ever considered that possibility? If they chose to conduct Bible studies, etc. without RSO recognition what would this look like?

    I think that Eric #3 is probably correct regarding most instances. Without some underlying cause or controversy, I cannot see masses of atheists trying to lead erstwhile Christian groups or vice versa.

    BTW: What did Vanderbilt decide to do with fraternities and sororities?

  • nathan

    Why the need to defend Fox? Aren’t all the outlets pretty egregious in their bias? Fox gets more rebuke (deservedly) because they constantly tout the idea that they are fair and balanced. It’s their brand, the measure with which they measure, the basis of their request for credibility, and it’s an outright lie…that’s why they get more attention from people like me.

    Also, what news outlet has successfully leveraged the fears and anxieties of the Christian community? Fox. They don’t call the Church to love, patience, kindness, but to fear, disdain, anxiety and a sense of being threatened.

    The critique is legit and deserved. Especially as it concerns influence on the people of the Churches in our culture.

  • nathan

    Furthermore, critique of Fox is not endorsement of CNN, et. al.

    Just like rigorous disagreement does not equal persecution or personal hatred.

  • In some ways this is not a new problem. Human beings have been attempting to name themselves and others almost from the beginning. We have numerous examples in the Bible. To name others is to have power over them, forcing an identity upon them allows those who so coerce to be in control. What Vanderbilt has essentially done is to say to religious groups that the convictions and character that gives a group its identity is of no significance, which is why anyone who does not identify with that group can join. Thus the convictions and ideals of group identity are irrelevant. The university is essentially saying, we will name you and we will have power over you by telling you that what you identify with is of no account other than in your own private devotion. To force groups to make their identifying characteristics irrelevant is to strip them of their name, of their identity. These groups thus are only significant as university sanctioned groups. It is the university that has named them.

  • @ Cam R #7 –

    No kidding! Basically ‘open-mindedness’, ‘tolerance’, ‘inclusion’ are rhetorical buzz-words often employed these days by liberal causes which should include in brackets after, [so long as you agree with us, otherwise we persecute]. I’ve lived for the last decade or so in two of the most liberal cities in North America and this has almost always been the case.

    So, I wonder if they would also allow someone opposed to homosexuality to head up the GLBT chapter, or a KKK member to head NAACP chapter? It’s kind of like Frank Turek being let go from BoA and Cisco because people there found out he wrote a book opposing same-sex marriage and complained. Apparently, holding a view that didn’t match theirs was prohibited by their inclusivity policy (just don’t bother thinking about this logically!).

    @ Scott Foster –
    Great post! I hope you continue, as we need more level-headed responses to Internet articles in general. The Net, too often, seems to have an overabundance of idiots.
    You said, “I personally think it would be a great loss to the Body if we cannot find ways to facilitate these type of interactions without state or secular institutional support.”
    While I respect that we need to fight for our rights as the law allows, I completely agree with this sentiment as well. Too often I see people arguing about getting religion into the classroom in various ways, while our church education programs are barely existent. Certainly, for the common good, it would be beneficial to have folks who only get exposed to the secular, to be familiar with religious things (if for nothing more than the fact that most of the world’s population is religious).

    @ nathan #10 –

    Fox certainly isn’t balanced, but neither are most (any?) of the other various news organizations. In many ways, I see Fox as kind of a balance to the more liberal networks (and take both with a canister of salt). If you read both, ignore the spin on either, and do a bit more research, you can start to form a picture of reality. It’s kind of like the Democrats and Republicans; both are right on a few things, wrong on many things, and the country is in trouble either way.

  • I forgot to add that there have been a number of cases where debates weren’t even allowed at universities on issues such as: same-sex-marriage, abortion, or Islam, as they were deemed too controversial. Huh? (OK, I get safety issues, but often one side of the debate IS allowed to promote, often even using govt. funding and with the blessing of the university.)

  • Mike S

    @Scott Foster – Glad you’re posting. Thanks for jumping in. The issue has nothing to do with legality, since, as you point out, Vandy is a private school. They could legally completely eradicate religiuous freedom on campus, as “establishment” and “free exercise” are irrelevant to the conduct of the University.

    One interesting issue is the universty admin’s complete lack of understanding — or discussion of — the role of religious faith in the context of university life and the role of liberty in protecting the abilities of dissenting voices to be heard. Vandy adopts a policy that, in the name of diversity and respect for the rights of minority viewpoints, makes diversity less likely and squelches minority viewpoints.

    The case you are thinking of is CLS v Martinez, in which the court held that an “all comers” policy, while not logical or well- advised, was not unconstitutional. Again, here legality is not the point. But it is worth noting that here there is no “all comers” policy. First, religious groups are singled out. Second, the policy is inapplicable to a wide array of campus groups, most notably frats and sororities, who don’t let all comers join, but engage in a complicated and secretive selection process. Third, the university has no written policy, and does not ave approval from its board for the policy articulated in the town hall meeting.

    This s simple religious bigotry. It is perfectly legal, but unwise and inconsistent with the high ideals of a serious university community.

  • Mike S

    Oh, and @Scott Foster, I forgot to add, excellent point regarding body life and our role in support of these groups.

    Lots of good thoughts in the posts above.

  • Mike S

    Oh, and @Scott Foster, I forgot to add, excellent point regarding body life and our role in support of these groups.

    Lots of good thoughts in the posts above.

  • Richard

    I understand how this looks like a big deal on the outside but I don’t think Vanderbilt or others are “persecuting religious” groups here. It’s saying that you can’t rule someone out from candidacy on paper, isn’t it? That doesn’t mean you have to elect them to a leadership position – you just have to allow them the opportunity to be a candidate. Am I missing something else?

  • Good point and question, @Richard. At the risk of dominating the converstion, I’ll tell you why I think it’s a bit of a red herring, as it works to do much more than just allow an opportunity for outsiders to stand for election.

    First, why? What reason would an authority have for requiring that someone who isn’t comitted to the group’s mission, goals, and values must be permitted to stand for leadership in that group? I agree that this is not exactly “persecution,” but it reveals a suspicion and belittling of religious identity. If Patheos asked Scot to open up Jesus Creed to any author on a first-come first basis or by election of all Patheos readers, he would be right to ask about their motives.

    Second, it’s not as simple as “letting outsiders stand for election,” because under this policy, religous groups would have no means of fostering an identity in the first place. While the group would be free to elect whomever they wanted, they would not be free to communicate their core values through written materials or requirements, statements of faith and the like. So to say, “hey, elect people who agree with your mission and values, but let others stand for election” is disingenuous when it is actually impermissible to communicate one’s mission and values in the first place through any written documents or statement of beliefs. The very thing that would help students identify like-minded candidates to elect is what is, in fact, prohibited under the policy. (In addition, though perhaps less important, the policy requires a leader who changes his or her mind in office to remain in office, with no recourse from the group. Likewise, if a university official got a report that even unwritten religious criteria were used in an election [say, a secret meeting about who is the best candidate based on spiritual maturity], they would investigate and bring charges for discrimination (the provost says this in the meeting)).

    Third, the policy undermines the very existence of a religious group because there is no mechanism to actually communicate an identity or maintain a consistent message of any kind. There is a great piece today on Townhall today from Jeff Shafer who notes the inconsistency– in Vandy selectively applying this policy to religous groups– demonstrated by Vandy’s own selection process of who they have chosen to communicate their message to the public. To maintain integrity, a group must be able to choose its spokespersons. Here is a link to that piece.


    I apologize for the length of this post.