Vanderbilt University is known for its southern charm and challenging academics. But in coming days it might be better known for its religious discrimination.
This month, members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus signed a letter to Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos. They expressed concern about reports over several religious student groups being placed on provisional status.
The groups under review face dissolution unless they allow students who don’t share the same religious beliefs as their organization the ability to obtain a leadership position within.
The letter goes on to ask the university to remove restrictions it has placed on Christian campus groups, including the Christian Legal Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“As members of Congress dedicated to protecting religious freedom in America, we are troubled to learn that student groups are being prohibited from preserving their religious identity through their student leadership,” Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) , leader of the prayer caucus, wrote.
Twenty-three members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus signed off on the letter, including Tennessee Republicans Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black.
The university’s religious discrimination controversy started last November. They began a review of their 380 student groups after an openly gay student was dismissed from a Christian fraternity and filed for discrimination.
Vanderbilt ultimately decided that groups could not put a clause in their constitution requiring leaders to share the group’s religious beliefs, even though Christian groups all have clauses that require leaders to do so.
Carol Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt, told The Christian Post Wednesday the chancellor at Vanderbilt isn’t concerned with protecting student’s religious freedoms. Rather, he wants “to make a policy that other schools can adopt. His goal isn’t about changing Vanderbilt, it’s about changing the religious freedom for students across the country.”
The Christian Legal Society is one of the four groups under a provisional status. Their constitution requires the leader of the group to subscribe to the organization’s statement of faith, and to be in charge of leading Bible studies and prayer at meetings.
But on Aug. 9, Vanderbilt told the group via email, “Thank you for submitting your new Constitution for the Christian Legal Society. In reviewing it, there are some parts of it that are in violation of Vanderbilt University’s policies regarding student organizations; they will need to be addressed before the Office of Religious Life can endorse CLS’s approval.”
Vanderbilt has not responded to the letter from the congressmen, but they did release a statement, saying, “Of the 36 religious student groups registered, 32 are in compliance. All other student groups are in compliance with the policy.”
Swain says this statement is misleading because it makes it seem like there is something different about these four groups, but in reality, “All the religious groups on campus are affected in the same way whether or not the university says they are in compliance.”
The discrimination, she said, is gaining a wider awareness. Along with members of Congress, alumni, parents, students and trustees are beginning to speak out against the policy. “The goal is to get the university to reinstate the protection that Christian organizations had,” and to give organizations the ability “to select leaders in accordance with their beliefs,” she said.