(Photo: Belmont University)
Belmont University president Bob Fisher said Tuesday that he was surprised over an attempt by city lawmakers to revive scrutiny of the school's hiring practices following the controversial departure of a lesbian coach.
Metro Nashville City Councilman Jamie Hollin has proposed a bill that would rescind a lease between the Metro Council and the Christian university for Rose Park, where construction for a $8 million athletic field is underway.
Hollin argues that the city should not be in contract with the university because it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, according the The Tennessean.
But Belmont president Fisher responded to the proposed legislation, saying the university's anti-discrimination policy has already been clarified.
"I am surprised that two Metro Council members would offer a resolution to derail this community-based partnership, based on what the sponsors admit are presumptions of fact about Belmont’s employment practices," said Fisher in a statement obtained by The Christian Post on Tuesday.
Fisher reiterated comments he made last Wednesday in response to the resignation of soccer coach Lisa Howe.
"As I have stressed before, sexual orientation is not considered in making hiring, promotion, salary, or dismissal decisions at Belmont. Nor is it considered in student admissions," he stated.
He asserted that the university aspires to "demonstrate Christian character" and make the campus a "safe and welcoming place for all."
The legislation by Hollin is co-sponsored by Councilman Mike Jameson.
A staff member at Metro Nashville City Council told The Christian Post on Tuesday that filing of the legislation has not been officiated.
Howe has not given a reason as to why she left her post on Dec. 2. Members of her soccer team allege she was pressured into resigning after she told them she was expecting a baby with her same-sex partner.
Belmont has said that the her departure was a "mutual decision."
City lawmakers aren't the only ones asking the council to re-examine the city's relationship with Belmont.
The Tennessee Equality Project sent a letter Monday to the council asking it to look into the leases the city has with the university and other discrimination issues.
The gay rights group says it is seeking "clarity" and not new legislation or changes in the city's relationship with Belmont "at this point."
Earlier this year, Belmont University won a ruling by the Tennessee Court of Appeals that allowed it to move forward with its lease agreement with Metro Parks. Community residents had filed suit to stop the contract though a recent report by The Tennessean indicates that some are now warming up to the idea.
Construction on the park's baseball, softball and soccer fields are expected to be completed by mid-February. The track field and community walking track will be completed by April, according to the local newspaper.
Fisher said that renovations of the 25-acre Rosa Parks Sports field will promote community health and facilitate neighborhood partnerships.
The university will make annual payments of $40,000 to Metro and $10,000 to the PTAs at two local middle schools to use the park.
Belmont was affiliated with the conservative Southern Baptist Convention until 2007, when it severed ties with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Earlier this year, SBC delegates passed a resolution opposing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, proposed in the U.S. Congress, which would make it illegal for employers to make decisions on hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation.
According to Belmont University’s website, the school maintains that it is a “Christian community” that espouses Christian values and "upholds the dignity of all and fosters an atmosphere of respect for the civil expression of divergent perspectives." Faculty administrators and staff are to “uphold Jesus as the Christ and the measure of all things,” according to the site.