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.
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?