By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers have given final approval to a bill seeking to rescind Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy, which requires school groups to allow any interested students to join and run for office.
The Senate approved its version of the bill sponsored by Republican Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet on a 19-12 vote on Monday. The House later followed suit on a 61-22 vote.
Voting yes were 57 Republicans and three Democrats and one independent. Voting no were 21 Democrats and one Republican. Thirteen members abstained.
Christian student leaders have been vocal in opposition, saying their groups shouldn’t be forced to admit members, and possibly leaders, who do not share their beliefs.
Under the proposal, which is headed to the governor for his consideration, “a religious student organization may determine that the organization’s religious mission requires that only persons professing the faith of the group … qualify to serve as members or leaders.
“No state higher education institution may deny recognition or any privilege or benefit to a student organization or group that exercises such rights,” according to the proposal.
Beavers said the provision that affects Vanderbilt just gives the university an opportunity to examine its policy and will sunset in 2013.
Nevertheless, opponents say lawmakers shouldn’t be dictating policy to private institutions.
“I’m not in a position to say how a private institution ought to run itself,” said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden. “It’s one thing to criticize, it’s another thing to dictate.”
Lawmakers in the House held a heated debate on the matter for more than an hour.
Rep. Mike McDonald called the measure absurd and said it sets “a very dangerous precedent.”
“I’m embarassed by this whole nonsense,” said the Portland Democrat. “This is a very slippery slope.”
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a speech in Nashville last week that he doesn’t support Vanderbilt’s policy, but doesn’t believe lawmakers should get involved.
“Their policy is not one that I would be in favor of, but I don’t think the Legislature probably has a hand in,” he said.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville in comments on the floor urged the governor to veto the measure.
“This is the one you need to veto right here,” he said. “I can give you a list for a couple more. But this right here will be No. 1.”