In an act of unity, 11 Christian student organizations at Vanderbilt University issued a joint statement this week, saying they refuse to comply with the university's new "all-comers" policy, which prohibits campus groups from selecting members and leaders based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
The Christian groups have adopted the name Vanderbilt Solidarity, and recently submitted individual applications for registration as campus organizations. The constitutions found in the groups' charters include faith-based requirements for leadership positions.
Despite the privileges afforded officially recognized student organizations, Vanderbilt Solidarity, supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, is challenging the "all-comers" policy because it violates "the central tenets of our faith."
Several privileges and benefits are included when student groups receive campus organization status, including using the Vanderbilt name. Other privileges, to name a few, include funding from the university, use of the university's facilities for regular business, and representation in student government, according to the Vanderbilt University's 2011-2012 student handbook.
The student groups included in Vanderbilt Solidarity are: Asian American Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru, Medical Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Graduate Christian Fellowship, Bridges International, Lutheran Student Fellowship, Every Nation Ministries, Beta Upsilon Chi, and Christian Legal Society, according to Inside Vandy, the Vanderbilt University's student newspaper.
As Inside Vandy reports, these 11 groups will probably not receive university recognition as campus groups due to their refusal to accept the "all-comers" policy.
"Until recently, Vanderbilt explicitly protected the freedom of all student organizations to select members and leaders who shared and supported the group's purpose, including -- for religious groups -- its faith," Vanderbilt Unity's April 9 statement reads.
"Each of our 11 organizations is a faith-based group dedicated to sharing the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on campus. As such, we simply cannot allow those who do not share our faith to lead our ministries, as Vanderbilt now demands," it added.
The private university, located in Nashville, Tenn., stirred controversy recently when it declared the "all-comers" policy to membership and leadership positions in campus student organizations.
The policy prevents student groups from maintaining belief-based requirements for leadership and membership positions within their organizations, as well as prohibits groups from selecting membership and leadership based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
The university maintains that its "all-comers" policy encourages tolerance, as all students should be welcomed into all organizations.
"We appreciate the value of religious organizations for our students. A few of our religious organizations maintain that their beliefs prevent them from complying with Vanderbilt's nondiscrimination policy," Vanderbilt Senior Public Affairs Officer Amy Wolf previously told The Christian Post.
"We believe all members of a registered student organization should be eligible to compete for leadership positions, but it is up to each student organization to select its own leaders," she added.
Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at the university, tells The Washington Post that "this debate is about nondiscrimination, not religious freedom, and we stand behind our policy."
Critics of the "all-comers" policy argue that it does not warrant religious expression and unity among religious groups, as it does not allow Christians to affiliate solely with other Christians, or Muslims with other Muslims, and so forth.
The university's Catholic student group, Vanderbilt Catholic, decided two weeks ago not to register for official organization status at the university, arguing that having Catholic leaders is integral to the organization's existence.
Vanderbilt Solidarity maintains good faith that the University will change its "all-comers" policy.
"Even while taking this action, we -- the religious students and ministries represented by Solidarity -- continue to pray that our much beloved university will change course," the statement concluded.