Vanderbilt Says It Respects Religious Tolerance With 'All-Comers' Policy

Vanderbilt University, which stirred controversy over deciding to adopt an "all-comers" policy to membership and leadership in campus student organizations, maintains that it shows tolerance for religious organizations.

In a statement given to The Christian Post by Vanderbilt Senior Public Affairs Officer Amy Wolf, the university does not believe its policy infringes on religious organizations' rights.

"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 the statement.

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"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."

The controversy began in November 2010 when it began to implement rules that would force religious student organizations to allow all people to run for leadership positions, regardless of whether or not the student organizations' rules allowed it.

Many groups spoke out against the measures and continued their opposition through legal means as well as student protests. According to Vanderbilt, "we have more than 30 religious organizations that comply with Vanderbilt's nondiscrimination policy."

Mir Isaamullah, president of Vanderbilt's Muslim Students Association, told CP that his group already allowed for non-Muslim students to serve as leaders.

"The new policy has no real effect on our membership requirements. Our membership requirements have always been fully open to all students, and the all-comers policy is in line with what we had," said Isaamullah.

"The Muslim Students Association has not had any issues with this policy, nor do we anticipate having any issues with it. We have a number of students of other faiths who come and sit in on our meetings and a few who have even come to see our prayers."

According to Isaamullah, if problems did arise for the MSA or other groups "they will be dealt with on a case by case basis in conjunction with the administration."

"As a university student, I can safely say that no one has enough time for vindictive and disruptive activities against organizations, and if they do, we will work with the administration to alleviate the situation," said Isaamullah.

Bill Choate, collegiate ministries coordinator for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, has been wary of the policy and its implementation. In an interview with the Baptist Press, Choate explained his concerns.

"If faith can't be one of the criteria [for leadership], we have a major crisis," said Choate.

"For months we thought the university would back away from this ridiculous position, but now it looks like they may not."

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical campus ministry with over 700 chapters throughout the nation, has expressed its opposition and has asked the university to allow InterVarsity to require those in leadership positions to be practicing Christians.

University officials, however, reaffirmed its stance earlier this month and said that it would not change the policy. Organizations that violate the policy risk losing official status on campus. Unrecognized clubs cannot reserve meeting space on campus, recruit members on campus and are ineligible to receive school funding.

Baptist Collegiate Ministry of Vanderbilt University, an organization whose leadership rules were affected by the "all-comers" policy, declined to comment on the matter.

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