Tenn. Governor Vetoes Bill Challenging Vanderbilt's All-Comers Policy

A bill that would have challenged the controversial all-comers policy for religious student organizations at Vanderbilt University was vetoed by the Governor of Tennessee.

In keeping with statements made to the press earlier this month, Governor Bill Haslam officially vetoed House Bill 2576 on Monday. It was the first veto Haslam had done in two years.

"Although I disagree with Vanderbilt's policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution," said Haslam to a statement a couple weeks before the veto.

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Tish Warren, a campus minister with Vanderbilt's InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship, told The Christian Post that she did appreciate the governor's words against the all-comers policy.

"We appreciate that Governor Haslam publicly spoke against a policy that would compromise the religious identity and religious liberty of student groups," said Warren. "We hope that he will personally engage with both Vanderbilt administrators and the Christian groups on campus."

HB 2576 would have challenged the all-comers policy, which states that religious organizations are no longer exempt from being able to exclude their leadership on the basis of religious belief. If enacted, HB 2576 would have forced Vanderbilt to either exempt religious groups from the policy or to include the university's fraternities and sororities in the policy, as they are presently exempted.

"Whether or not the legislature chooses to reintroduce the legislation, we will continue to seek to persuade the university to acknowledge the need of faith-based groups to select their leaders according to faith-based criteria," said Warren.

"It's not only reasonable but also necessary to preserve our group's belief-based mission and to make the strongest contribution to the university community."

In November 2010, Vanderbilt University started to implement rules mandating that religious organizations allow all students to run for leadership positions in religious groups, even if the students did not agree with the beliefs of the group.

"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," read a statement from Vanderbilt. "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."

Due to the all-comers policy, 15 student organizations including InterVarsity, Baptist College Ministries, and Vandy Catholic have not renewed their status as recognized student organizations at Vanderbilt.

On Monday, an open letter signed by representatives of 12 of the organizations was sent to Vanderbilt officials requesting a change in the policy.

"We reiterate our support of a fair and reasonable nondiscrimination policy. We agree that all campus groups should be open in membership to all students," read the letter in part.

"We would affirm the university's nondiscrimination policy if it clearly allowed religious groups to have religious qualifications for student leaders – as is the case at most American universities."

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