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Vanderbilt Univ. Christian Group Says It's Being Forced Off Campus

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By Stephanie Samuel, Christian Post Reporter
January 25, 2012|6:33 am

The adviser for Vanderbilt University's Christian Legal Society (CLS) said it is being forced off campus after the university instituted a nondiscrimination policy and placed various religious campus groups on probation.

Law Professor Carol Swain told The Christian Post Tuesday that CLS has amended its constitution to comply with college policies prohibiting clubs from precluding someone from a leadership positions based on his or her beliefs.

However, Swain said the group must draw the line when it comes to some biblical principles and responsibilities.

"We've drawn the line at the restriction that Christian organization leaders could not require leaders to lead Bible study and worship," she said. "When you cannot require your leaders to lead Bible study and worship then it ceases to be a Christian organization."

Bottom line, Swain said, is if Vanderbilt University does not reinstate past protections of campus religious groups' religious freedom then it will be forced to leave the school.

The Tennessee university created the nondiscrimination policy over a year ago when campus Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi reportedly dismissed an openly gay member from his position. After adopting the policy, the university has placed four clubs, including CLS, on provisional status last spring.

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Provisional status, national CLS Senior Counsel Kim Colby said, means that the clubs can meet but are not recognized as an official campus group.

The Vanderbilt CLS chapter tried to have the provisional status lifted by summiting a revised constitution with a beefed-up nondiscrimination clause.

"We always had a nondiscrimination clause in our constitution. We inserted what we could [from Vanderbilt's clause while remaining] in good conscience," Colby told CP.

However, the administration continues to take issue with the Christian club's statement of faith and requirement that leaders lead Bible study and worship meetings.

"We just found this astounding," Colby said.

Colby and Swain 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.

"I think it makes clear that it is a core right for religious groups to have leaders who agree with the groups' beliefs," Colby said

"Even the liberal justices agreed that it made sense for religious groups to choose their leaders," Swain observed.

Indeed, the Supreme Court ruling favoring Hosanna-Tabor was unanimous.

If CLS is forced to leave campus, Colby said, "It would mean that the university used its nondiscrimination policy to exclude religious groups."

Swain also fears that Vanderbilt's policy would set a negative precedent for other universities.

Students, alumni, donors and even the Congressional Prayer Caucus have sent letters and communiques urging the university to reinstate religious protects for the four affected campus groups.

Colby said she is confident Vanderbilt will "come to its senses" and listen to its alumni, students and donors.

 

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