Vanderbilt University: Christian Leaders need not be Christian

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.

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.”

College Group Told to Eliminate ‘Personal Commitment to Jesus’ in Bylaws

See also:
College to Student Group: Drop ‘Personal Commitment to Jesus’ from Your Bylaws
What’s going on at Vanderbilt?

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Jay's picture ]The Battle of Vanderbilt: The Tennessee Legislature Steps Up

And now the Tennessee legislature has stepped in. Vanderbilt, like many large private universities, receives staggering amounts of public funds. At the same time, however, it believes that it should receive that funding as an entitlement — treating its students and the public however it wishes while feeding at the taxpayer trough. In a strongly worded letter to the university (I’m looking to find a copy online), more than 20 legislators have indicated that while Vanderbilt has a right to define its policies, the state still retains the power to regulate publicly-funded entities:

We acknowledge that private institutions such as Vanderbilt University have the freedom to establish its associations and maintain the integrity of its institutional mission. As such, the University has the right to adopt and apply an “all-comers” policy for student organizations. But the state has a right not to subsidize any part of the operations of those organizations, like Vanderbilt University, that engage in unequal treatment of individuals and organizations, the effect of which is religious discrimination...

In its first public response to the legislature, Vanderbilt responded with a threat of its own:

“The state of Tennessee and Vanderbilt have had a long and successful partnership. Vanderbilt provides important services like TennCare... This amendment puts that relationship and those services potentially at risk. We respect the difference of opinions and continue to work to resolve that.”

For those not steeped in Tennessee law and politics, TennCare is Tennessee’s Medicaid managed care program. Is Vanderbilt now using its hospital as a weapon of ideological warfare? Will it actually stop treating poor Tennesseans in retaliation for being forced to either respect religious liberty or maintain consistent policies? Given that Vanderbilt also devours hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding — and federal legislation requires hospitals receiving those funds to provide ER care without regard for ability to pay — Vanderbilt’s response is far more bark than bite. It’s likely that it will serve more to anger than intimidate the Tennessee legislature.

And there ]have been protests at Vanderbilt by fed-up religious organizations:

A remarkable thing is happening down here in Nashville. An old story — a university attempts to throw Christian student groups off campus unless they are open to non-Christian leadership — has a very new twist. Hundreds of Christian students are mobilizing against the policy and challenging the administration directly. Tuesday night, Vanderbilt held a “town hall” to discuss the policy, and the room was packed with students wearing white (the color students chose to signal their protest) and hundreds more were turned away and forced to watch on a live stream. You can read reports of the meeting here and here, and watch the entire three-hour affair here...

Something is happening in the American religious community, and these students are the tip of the spear. With dozens of churches facing expulsion from public property in New York because of Mayor Bloomberg’s nonsensical and punitive policy against religious expression, with Catholic and other Christian organizations forced to cover sterilization and birth control services as part of their insurance plans, and with campuses becoming increasingly hostile to religious organizations, we may be witnessing the birth of a mass movement for religious liberty. A nation cannot turn its back on its founding principles without a backlash, we are not a “post-Christian society,” and these Vanderbilt students have now joined New York pastors and Catholic bishops at the vanguard of a defining cultural battle.

Links are available at the NRO websites.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells