College Group Told to Eliminate 'Personal Commitment to Jesus' in Bylaws

Clarification Appended

A Christian student group at Vanderbilt University has been told by the school's administration that it will lose its recognized status on campus unless the group removes its requirement that its leaders have a "personal commitment to Jesus Christ," says a Christian legal association.

Despite a discussion with school officials at the beginning of the year that led members of the group to believe their bylaws were approved, the group was told last week that the university's new policy barring religious groups from selecting members and leaders based on faith requirements will disqualify the group next school year.

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The Christian Legal Society told The Christian Post on Friday that the small Christian student group, which wants to stay anonymous, received an email from the administration last Tuesday that stated that the group's application to keep its recognition was deficient because the group's constitution states the following:

"Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, personal commitment to Jesus Christ, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability."

CLS said that the student group was told that in order to retain recognition, it must eliminate the requirement that leaders have a "personal commitment to Jesus Christ." The private university, located in Nashville, Tenn., dictated that the following sentence be substituted instead:

"Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability."

Although they do not want to bring attention to themselves, the issue with Christian organizations at Vanderbilt has become enough of a problem on campus that the group does want to let others know about the situation, said CLS spokesperson Kim Colby.

"When they went over their constitution on Jan. 31 they had been told that their constitution is fine. This past Tuesday, they were told it's not fine unless you take out these five words: 'a personal commitment to Jesus Christ,' requirement for your leaders," Colby told CP. "They were told they would not be recognized next year which means they cannot reserve space, or attend the student fair, or be a part of email blasts from the college."

Recently, Christian students at Vanderbilt University organized a video campaign highlighting their concern for the university's new policy that they say discriminates against Christians.

The nearly seven-minute video features several university students, alumni, and sponsors speaking on their rights to freely express their religious association, and the importance of electing religious leaders to the university's student run organizations.

The video also claims that there is a disparity in university requirements for Greek organizations and religious organizations, as the university allows Greek organization to "discriminate" for leadership and membership positions.

Students protesting the "all-comers" policy have formed the group Vanderbilt Solidarity, consisting of 11 Christian groups and supported by the Alliance Defense Fund.

The 11 Christian groups that have formed the alliance include 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, Vanderbilt University's student newspaper.

Colby said that the Catholic groups decided not to submit a constitution but to instead go ahead and leave campus. The eleven groups in the alliance, however, decided that they would try one more time to be recognized with faith requirements for their leaders and submitted their constitutions with faith requirements on April 9. But if the University denies recognition, they will leave campus rather than remove their faith requirements for officers."

"By mandating the elimination of a Christian group's standard of 'personal commitment to Jesus Christ,' Vanderbilt requires students to abandon their religious integrity and undermines their religious freedoms," states CLS. "Leadership is crucial to the direction of any organization.

"Eliminating the requirement of a commitment to Jesus Christ in leaders takes away the group's ability to effectively fulfill its purpose and continue its ministry," CLS officials insisted. "By forcing religious groups to choose between remaining on campus and upholding their religious convictions, the university inhibits the development of a community based on freedom and inclusivity."

University officials continue to stand by the "all-comers" policy, arguing that the policy was initiated to prevent discrimination, and is not an issue of religious freedom.

"This debate is about nondiscrimination, not religious freedom, and we stand behind our policy," Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at the university, previously told The Washington Post.

A comment from university officials about the administration's recent action could not be obtained at press time.

Clarification:  Monday, April 23, 2012:

The earlier version of this article did not include details of how some of the Christian student groups plan to proceed with their status at Vanderbilt University.  The updated version includes details of the process, including how some of the organizations will apply to be recognized with their faith requirement despite the school's new policy.  

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