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Legal Expert: Religious Clubs Have No Case Against Vanderbilt's Nondiscrimination Policy

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By Stephanie Samuel, Christian Post Reporter
February 2, 2012|4:09 pm

Vanderbilt University students who are being forced to allow nonbelievers to take leadership positions in their Christian clubs may have no legal recourse because the four-year institution is privately funded, the head of a conservative law firm told The Christian Post.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mathew Staver said the Tennessee school "can essentially do anything that they want to" in this current circumstance.

The university has currently placed five student groups on provisional status because they refused to open their leadership positions to those who cannot or do not want to lead Bible studies or worship meetings.

Vanderbilt University Law Professor Carol Swain said Wednesday on Fox News that university officials continue to refuse to recognize the concerns of Christian club members during a meeting Tuesday.

"They held the town hall meeting in a building that would not accommodate the town and they would not allow the religious groups to have a spokesperson for even five minutes," she Told Fox News Wednesday morning.

Swain also serves as the adviser of Vanderbilt University's Christian Legal Society (CLS). The club is currently one of the five clubs on provisional status.

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University officials told students and faculty members in the Tuesday town hall that it would not change the policy. Instead, campus clubs and even fraternal organizations must adopt an all-comers recruitment policy that extends membership and leadership positions to all who show up at meetings.

Clubs and organizations that violate the policy risk losing official status on campus. Unrecognized clubs cannot reserve meeting space on campus, recruit members on campus and are ineligible to receive school funding.

Swain and national CLS Senior Counsel Kim Colby both said the recent Supreme Court decision on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that religious groups should have the right to selectively pick their leaders even in the face of anti-discrimination laws.

Staver agrees. "What Vanderbuilt is doing is absolutely absurd. This so-called nondiscrimination policy would ultimately result in eliminating the unique characteristics of Christian groups or any other group for that matter," he said.

He stated, however, "The constitutional principle could not apply to a private school."

In the Supreme Court case, a federal agency challenged the employment practices of religious school Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School.

Although Vanderbilt is challenging who campus religious groups may select to lead their groups, Vanderbilt is a private college and the money funding the clubs is likely also private money.

The clubs therefore have a limited number of options to overturn the school policy.

Staver encouraged students to continue putting political pressure on university officials.

"It is a political issue that people need to express their displeasure with Vanderbilt about," he said.

So far, students, alumni, donors and even the Congressional Prayer Caucus have sent letters and communiques urging the university to reinstate religious protections for the affected campus groups.

The campus' Young Republican club has also made a video expressing displeasure with the policy.

Staver also told The Christian Post that Liberty Counsel would consider sending a letter to Vanderbilt University.

 

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