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Congressional Prayer Caucus Urges Vanderbilt University to Stop Discriminating Against Religious Student Groups

Vanderbilt Commons.

Vanderbilt Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ — Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, along with Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Diane Black, led 36 Members of Congress in sending a second letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, urging him to ensure that the school’s nondiscrimination policy is not being interpreted in a manner that discriminates against religious student groups.
Last year, several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt University, including the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were placed on “provisional status” for requiring their student leaders to share the groups’ religious beliefs. If Vanderbilt does not change its nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of religious student groups, at least 11 groups will be forced to leave campus and drop their affiliation with the university.
“I fully respect a private institution’s right to set its own policies. However, I am deeply concerned that Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy unfairly targets religious student groups in a hostile manner that is forcing them to seek refuge off campus and immediately drop any affiliation they once enjoyed with the university,” Blackburn said. “It’s my hope that Chancellor Zeppos and Vanderbilt’s Board will re-construct their nondiscrimination policy to reflect the freedom that religious student groups have been provided under federal law.”
“Freedom of religion is fundamental to our Republic. Vanderbilt’s “all comers” policy infringes on that right. By exempting Greek organizations but refusing to exempt religious organizations it appears that religious discrimination is the aim of this policy,” said Black. “As a private institution Vanderbilt is not exempt from the Constitution and I encourage them to rethink this misguided policy.”
Congressman Forbes added: “Vanderbilt’s policy defies common sense. Religious student groups form around specific beliefs, and their leaders obviously lead the groups’ activities. As such, religious groups must be allowed to select leaders that share their core religious beliefs in order to carry out their most basic functions. It is not discrimination; it is common sense.”
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus sent the first letter to Vanderbilt University in October 2011 expressing their concerns with this troubling policy. The current form of the policy allows an exemption for Greek organizations, but does not allow one for religious student organizations. This policy not only discriminates against religious student groups whose rights are protected by the Constitution, but also leaves the appearance that it is the religious groups that are specifically targeted.

Is Vanderbilt Anti-Discrimination Policy Actually Anti-Religion and Anti-Free Speech?

Vanderbilt Commons.

Vanderbilt Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If this policy forces Catholics off campus through today, who else will be exiled tomorrow?” — Mark Tooley, IRD President

Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell,

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ — A controversial policy forcing campus groups to permit any student to qualify for leadership has caused Vanderbilt University’s Catholic ministry to declare it must leave the campus to remain faithful to its principles.

The university’s newly-enforced policy requires “that all students are presumed to be eligible for membership in registered student organizations and that all organization members in good standing are eligible to compete for leadership positions,” according to Mark Bandas, Associate Provost and Dean of Students for Vanderbilt.

Founded in the 1870s by Methodists, Vanderbilt has a Christian history, although the private school has been largely secular for some time.

In 2011, Vanderbilt was criticized for requiring nursing students to participate in abortions. The school ultimately reversed course to accommodate pro-life students.

IRD President Mark Tooley commented:

“No seriously religious group, or any seriously principled group, could comply with Vanderbilt’s oppressive ‘diversity’ policy.

“Hypocritically, Vanderbilt’s narrow version of ‘diversity’ compels homage to postmodern relativism.

“If this policy forces Catholics off campus through today, who else will be exiled tomorrow?

“Forcing religious groups to accept leaders who deny the group’s faith is especially absurd.

“All persons who believe in liberty of conscience and free speech should stand in solidarity with Vanderbilt’s departing Catholic ministry.”

The Institute on Religion & Democracy works to reaffirm the church’s biblical and historical teachings, strengthen and reform its role in public life, protect religious freedom, and renew democracy at home and abroad.